WINTER 2007 MEGHAN
DANIELS makes a scene
BENAVIDES looks at the archaelogy of the Gospels
KEVIN HILKE discusses V. S. Naipaulâ€™s illumination of darkness
TAGLE gets lost in pi
on poetry and vegetables
Volume 1, Issue 2
Copyright © 2007 by Leland Quarterly • Stanford University All Rights Reserved. Copy America Publishing • Palo Alto
EDITORIAL BOARD, WINTER 2007 Editors-In-Chief BOB BOREK, NICK HOY
Managing Editor MICHELLE TRAUB
FRANK GUAN, ANNIE WYMAN, REVTI GUPTA
Fiction & Poetry Editors
CLAYTON BARRINGER, ANYA BERSHAD, RUTH MCCANN, VIRGINIA HINOSTROZA, PATRICK LEAHY, NORA MARTIN
GEORGE XANDER MORRIS
Layout Editor TERESA KIM
ANDREW ALTSCHUL, VALERIE BRELINSKI
Special Thanks ANDREW ALTSCHUL & VALERIE BRELINSKI for their continuing support THE CREATIVE WRITING PROGRAM, THE PROGRAM IN WRITING AND RHETORIC and THE OFFICE OF THE VICE PROVOST OF UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION for their significant contributions to the second issue of the magazine.
Leland: A Quarterly Statement on Literature, Culture, Art, and Politics is a general interest magazine that showcases the very best in Stanford University undergraduate art and writing. Our mission is to tap into the almost incomparably diverse talents of Stanford’s undergraduate student body, soliciting a wide array of poetry and prose, and working closely with authors to achieve a publication of superior content and design. Leland’s statement—from fiction to poetry, essays to reviews—will be enduring, common, recognizable, and extraordinary.
heard a true war story sixth-hand, though I came close to hearing it third-hand. This is how it came to me: A friend who had recently returned from boot camp—let’s call him Jones—had met someone who had been deployed in Iraq—let’s call him Smith. Smith was temporarily the boss of a boy that he did not meet, but who went home early with a lost arm and a lost eye. Smith heard what had happened to the boy when he returned home and met the friend of the boy’s girlfriend’s brother. She told him the story, and talked about how now the boy did bar tricks with the glass eye. I’ll bet you five dollars I can lick my eye, he’d say. They pieced it all together and realized that this was the boy that he had temporarily been the boss of while they were together in Baghdad, and some time later he told Jones who told me. This worries me: the distance. This shred of a war story is what I cling to; this one story that I haven’t gotten from the media, but that has come to me in the old way, way of mouth, which seems more natural. And I don’t think I’m unique in this situation. As each new storyteller emerges, one step further from the experience, fiction seeps into the tale. It seems that more weight is placed on the how—on the telling of it—than on the what—the fact that these things actually took place. But as the story is distanced from the source, the facts recede: the how has little with which to work. The result is a shoddy story, with some boy’s reality being used as the punch-line. It disturbs me that pure fiction can sometimes touch me more than such true war stories. Of course, I gaped at my friend’s story, but even as I gaped, I felt the self-conscious judgment: this is rehearsed, it’s not sincere. What I want to know is why it can seem so easy to be sincere about what never happened, and yet so difficult to be sincere about what really did happen, what’s happening every day, somewhere in the world—about what matters? Does fiction hold the world’s stories to a standard that they will never be able to match? Are words and experience like schoolboys and schoolgirls, always running in different directions, and when they meet are they awkward and shy? Do they demand two different types of sincerity? Is it possible to have any idea what it feels like to lose an arm and an eye for your country without lying in the sand, bleeding and alone? I hope that it is possible to have some idea, that each time we meet another person we don’t simply nod our heads in respect to that which we do not know. Words can seem at times like trinkets—playthings, but when one gets to turning a phrase for turning a phrase’s sake, it could be worthwhile to recall the tremendous power of the words that we use every day. They have the power—and the burden—of expressing what we would otherwise be left to experience alone. — BOB BOREK
& the editors of Leland
POLITICS & SOCIETY
The Death of the Historical Jesus
NICK BENAVIDES How continued study of changing interpretations of the resurrection could help bridge the divide between Evangelical Christians and secular Americans
A Modern Guide to Pi
Stay Out of the Way And No Matter What Don’t Make a Scene
Fiery and Vivid: V. S. Naipaul, Nikolai Gogol and the Illumination of Darkness
KEVIN HILKE A discussion of the burden of the post-colonial Nobel Prize Winning Author V. S. Naipaul in connection with the work of Nikolai Gogol
ANNIE WYMAN A look at the divide between David Eggers and the editors of n+1, and where a young writer fits into the literary scene
A Seam of Silver
EXAMINING THE SEA (14), Kyle Haynes
(40), Mae Ryan
EAVAN BOLAND talks to LQ about poetry, teaching and technology
POETRY 8 Aubade
12 Family Photograph,
Thanksgiving 2005 IRIS LAW
A. JARED SCHAFER
(19), Mae Ryan
COVER PHOTO by Mae Ryan
(32), Mae Ryan
28 The Magician
35 Walking Through White Plaza
On a Friday Evening REVTI GUPTA
36 The Origin of Tongue M. SUTHERLAND
41 After Dinner BRIAN SELBY
45 Against the Remorse of Orpheus TERESA KIM
54 Rudimentary Drawing, or
illustration from THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES (13), Kellie Brownell and Killeen Hanson
(53), Mae Ryan
Exercises in Love Activity TERESA KIM
(8), Mae Ryan
(36), Mae Ryan
THE DEATH OF THE
HISTORICAL JESUS BY NICK BENAVIDES
eing a Christian in the United States today entails more than just having a set of beliefs about God and the afterlife. In many cases church membership implies holding conservative positions on a number of political and social issues including abortion, homosexuality and gay marriage, attitudes towards the government, the “war on terror,” and many others. Although there are many churches in the United States which are liberal in their social and political views, the most vocal members of the church are often the most conservative. Known as “evangelical” or “fundamentalist” Christians, this group has grown increasingly political in recent years. One need only browse the websites of groups such as the Christian Coalition of America to see that many Christians are no longer satisfied with simply teaching the gospel story and inculcating conventional moral values. Instead, their focus has grown and shifted outward: the Christian community now plays a critical activist role in debates over many social, political and economic issues. No longer voting as individuals but as a powerful collective, the Christian right has indeed become a significant political force, taking “faith based” stances on such issues as abortion, homosexual marriage, and the war on terror. This Christian entrance into the political arena has inevitably engendered conflict with political groups comprised of people who do not share the Christians’ values. Every day the news is filled with reports of passionate conflict between the two groups, leading both sides to lament that the nation has grown increasingly divided both morally and politically. On the one hand, many American’s support
for gay marriage and abortion makes the Evangelicals feel that the country is slipping into moral decline. The Reverend Jerry Falwell has warned the Republican Party “if the candidate running for president is not pro-life, pro-family ... you’re not going to win” and that “you cannot be a sincere committed born-again believer who takes the Bible seriously and vote for a prochoice anti-family candidate.” By antifamily, of course, the Reverend Falwell is referring to a pro-gay marriage stance. It is positions like Falwell’s, argued mostly from a commitment to the Bible, that so worry the Christians’ secular counterparts. To those outside the evangelical tradition, it does not make sense to argue for political and social issues based on faith in Jesus and the Bible. Both sides eye the other with a considerable degree of suspicion and constantly question the motivations of their political opponents. I myself was raised as an evangelical Christian and personally believe that both groups sincerely desire to do the right thing. Unfortunately, there is very little reasonable dialogue which takes place between both parties, so it often seems like a compromise is impossible. Yet it is my conviction that if we together examine the basis for the beliefs held by Evangelicals we can clear up much of the misunderstanding between Christians and non-Christians. For the Evangelicals, what it ultimately comes down to is this: the belief that Jesus physically rose from the dead. It is this resurrection that proves to them that Jesus was God and provides the basis for their belief that the Bible is divinely inspired, clear and inerrant in all its teachings. From these teachings flow the evangelical stances on abortion,
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homosexuality and a host of other political issues. Everything in the evangelical view of the world rests on this one statement: “Jesus is risen.” The objection that secular liberals have to evangelical Christian politics and social mores is thus also grounded in the resurrection of Jesus. They do not believe it occurred and often view those who believe it did with disdain. However, I feel this disdain is itself rooted in a lack of understanding of the significance of the resurrection and what it originally meant. It is clear then that to really have a meaningful discussion about these topics, both sides must first have clear knowledge of what the resurrection was and was not. I seek to demonstrate that our modern understanding of the resurrection is extremely different from how early Christians viewed the event and from how we should view it now. For them it would have been absurd to say that Jesus was alive and walked out of the tomb. They knew full well that Jesus was really, truly dead. The concept of the resurrection was initially a metaphorical affirmation of the value of the life that Jesus lived and the truth of the faith that he held. Over time, however, the metaphor was transformed into a literal belief with the effect that it is now difficult for Christians to think about the resurrection as meaning anything other than an empty tomb and a physical resurrection. The focus shifted from what happened during Jesus’ life to what happened after his death. Instead of emphasizing the radical acceptance and table fellowship necessary to bring God’s empire to life right now, Christianity today emphasizes the afterlife and adherence to the moral codes necessary to get there. It is these moral codes that form the basis of the Christian’s emphatic condemnation of homosexuality, amongst other things. For the Evangelicals, returning to a traditional understanding of the resurrection does not mean that one has to abandon the Christian faith but rather that one must re-imagine it. For the secular liberals, this view of the resurrection should lead to a greater acceptance of Christianity and respect for the person of Jesus. By positing a re-imagined Christianity which puts more emphasis on Jesus’ radical acceptance of social outcasts and the Empire of God than on Jesus’ death and
how to reach heaven, we can come to a place where both parties can sit down and reason effectively with one another. Beliefs do not spring fully formed from the ground, but rather evolve over time, becoming more and more complex as different layers of interpretation are added on. Noted scholars such as John Dominic Crossan, Stephen Patterson and the men and women who participated in the Jesus Seminar have spent years attempting to peel back those layers of interpretation to get at whom Jesus was and what the resurrection really meant. This editorial is deeply indebted to their work and will undertake their task in reverse: starting from Jesus’ life I will chronologically work through the pertinent New Testament texts and demonstrate how the concept of the resurrection evolved over time. It is impossible to understand the meaning of the resurrection without understanding Jesus’ life, so it is with his life that I will begin. Yeshua, as Jesus was actually called in his day, was a Jewish peasant who lived in the beginning of the first century. He grew up in Galilee, in the northern part of Israel in a multicultural area displaying both Greek and Roman influences. Most of his fellow Jews were poor farmers or craftsman who had had their land expropriated by the Roman Empire. Yeshua’s experience would have been shaped by two powerful social structures: the Roman Empire’s occupation of Israel and the Jewish religion’s cleanliness codes. During Yeshua’s time, Israel was a captive state of the powerful Roman Empire. Roman control was almost total, and during his youth many of Yeshua’s friends and relatives would still have had first or second-hand memories of the Roman legions’ terrifying conquest of the land. The indignity of life in an occupied country hung over the Jews like a weight, reminding them of God’s promise to protect Israel and causing them to look forward to a Messiah who would free them from Roman rule. Roman occupation also brought with it staggering economic change. Jewish peasants had their land expropriated by Roman authorities and were forced to work fields they had once owned for a paltry subsistence wage. For these disenfranchised Jews living on
the margins of survival, starvation was a serious and ever-present concern, making the sharing of food a powerful act defining who counted as one’s family. Although the Jews were starving, the Roman Empire was enjoying the fruits of Caesar the Augustus’ conquests and was exceedingly wealthy. The economic and political structure of the empire was based on a series of pyramidal patron-client relationships radiating out from Rome. Wealthy and powerful patrons in Rome would offer wealth and political favors to their clients in return for loyalty and support for their interests from below. Those clients in turn were patrons for people lower on the social ladder. These relationships extended from Rome into the farthest reaches of the Empire with the Galilean Jews at the very bottom of this hierarchy, with little to give and nothing to gain. To maintain this structure of patron-client relationships the Roman Empire emphasized the values necessary to maintain it: fides, pietas, familia—loyalty, piety, and Roman family values. Patronclient relationships ran mostly through family groups and it was to them that you had to be loyal. On top of this clearly oppressive economic and political structure, Yeshua and his fellow peasants also had to bear up under an intricate cleanliness code. The religious leaders of his day had expanded upon the laws of Moses, creating a dizzyingly complex system of rules dividing those who were “clean” and Godly from those who were “unclean” and not in a right relationship with God. Although following these codes may have been possible for some of the Jewish elite living in Jerusalem, it was out of the question for the Galilean Jews just barely eking out a living; they simply didn’t have time for such things. As a result, most of Yeshua’s fellows were not only being crushed under the Roman system of patronage but they were also being pushed to the margins of their own people and forced to think of themselves as unacceptable in the eyes of God. Into this world of oppression Yeshua brought a radical anti-establishment message, proclaiming the arrival of the Empire of God through table fellowship. Yeshua wandered the length and breadth of Israel teaching that the Empire of God
that the Jews were so eagerly awaiting had already arrived, if only they would just recognize and accept it. To illustrate this point Yeshua established the tradition of table fellowship, breaking bread with the lowest members of society: prostitutes, Jews who collected taxes for the Romans and others who were ritually unclean. Although today Yeshua’s table fellowships are seen as a rather innocuous act, they were actually revolutionary and seditious, directly attacking the oppressive power structures of Rome and the Jewish religious elite. By eating with the ritually unclean, Yeshua proclaimed the end of the cleanliness code and of the separation between clean and unclean, social insiders and social outsiders. His table fellowships were a living rebuke to the religious authorities. “And you experts in the law,” Yeshua said, “woe to you, because you load the people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them” (Luke 11:46). Yeshua’s table fellowships freed the people from the burden of following the complex code and assured them that they were loved and accepted by God. Yet Yeshua did not see himself as breaking from traditional Judaism and he had no intention of founding a new religion. Rather, he saw the Empire of God he proclaimed as fulfilling the ancient promise that the traditional legal code could not deliver on. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets,” Yeshua told the Pharisees, “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 15:17). Where the impossible demands of the law failed to bring about the Empire of God, the radical acceptance of Yeshua’s table fellowships could succeed. If Yeshua’s message was an affront to the religious authorities, it was viewed by Roman authorities as nothing less than a direct assault on their empire. Remember that many of the Jews at this time were living on the verge of starvation; sharing food was an extremely significant act reserved for members of ones family. By sharing food with prostitutes and the ritually unclean, Yeshua redefined family and created a new community where the outcasts of society would be loved and have a place to belong. This redefinition of
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AUBADE If you ever leave him, this room will still know him like you did not leave him. In the gold bowl plums hard with wanting, apples ready, stems poised, to spring outward. As if nothing could bear itself, objects sickened by their forms. The wall aching where a thrown glass once burst like a star, the mirror heavy with your swollen face. Until he wakes, you touch yourself and think of vomiting: you could bend over, cheek near the carpet, coughing, sweet for hours. â€”SHAMALA GALLAGHER
8 RYAN LELAND QUARTERLY WINTER 2007 MAE
family disrupted the patron-client system that maintained the Roman Empire’s control over the people. As Stephen Patterson observed, Family loyalty was the linchpin of the entire system of patronage that held the empire together. Jesus pulled that pin, creating a new family with new loyalties. Their faith was directed to another empire, another God. Calling this redefinition of family the “Empire of God” was not merely of theoretical or theological concern. In an empire where the emperor was considered divine and religion and politics were inextricably linked, proclaiming the “Empire of God” was nothing short of proclaiming a revolution. Yeshua’s revolutionary ministry only lasted about three years until Pontius Pilate ordered him crucified outside of Jerusalem during the Passover Festival at about 32CE. The Jewish religious leaders had accused him of blasphemy and the Romans had accused him of treason. Like many other Jews of his day, Yeshua was executed without fanfare after a meaningless trial. Yeshua ultimately died refusing to deny the same message that he had lived: the present appearance of the Empire of God. During his life, Yeshua’s message was crystal clear. The Empire of God has arrived; it is up to you to make it a reality. Yeshua was not the point of his own message, he came to spread the Empire of God, not create a Yeshua brand religion. After his death however, things began to get muddied. While the earliest texts relating to Yeshua do not even mention his arrest, trial and execution, later books treat the subject differently. Over time, more and more emphasis gets placed on the resurrection and on achieving salvation in the afterlife. Paul speaks of Yeshua being “awakened” and “exalted” by God, introducing an apocalyptic framework, but does not mention a bodily resurrection. Mark pushes further, mentioning an empty tomb while Matthew, Luke, and John all offer stories of Yeshua’s physical body being seen after his death. If Yeshua’s message while he was alive was the faith he built his life around, why did this
evolution in interpretation and emphasis occur? The earliest known texts treating the life of Yeshua that are the most critical are the Gospel of Thomas and the Q Gospel. The Gospel of Thomas was discovered in Egypt in 1945 and is composed of a collection of wisdom sayings attributed to Yeshua. It is dated to around 50CE, before which time it likely circulated orally among different Christian communities. The Gospel of Thomas does not show even the faintest knowledge of the resurrection of Yeshua. Instead it is concerned with showing the way Yeshua re-imagined the world as the Empire of God. It is not apocalyptic in nature and focuses on Yeshua’s message as the point, not Yeshua himself. If the resurrection were truly a critical part of the early Christian faith, one would assume that it would appear in this gospel. Additionally, even if the resurrection occurred but was not an important part of the faith, one would expect it to be an event extraordinary enough to at least warrant passing mention. It is, however, conspicuously absent from this text, leading one to conclude that the earliest Christians did not believe that Yeshua was physically resurrected. The Q Gospel is a hypothetical text redacted from the common parts of Matthew and Luke but not found in Mark. Although no physical text of the Q Gospel exists, there is a strong scholarly consensus that it existed as an oral tradition dating back to about the death of Yeshua. Similar to Thomas, it completely lacks any reference to the resurrection of Yeshua. Again, if the early Christians thought that the resurrection of Yeshua was the point, it is extremely odd that it is not included in this source. The man who came to be known as the apostle Paul was an extremely zealous Pharisee, one of the Jewish religious elites, and a proponent of the cleanliness code. He was so outraged by the Jews who abandoned the cleanliness code in favor of Yeshua’s table fellowships that he traveled the ancient world persecuting the early Christians and dragging them to prison. Eventually, however, Paul was won over by the Christians’ love for one another and embraced Yeshua’s vision for the Empire of God. Having left behind his religious
tradition, Paul had to justify the validity of the movement he had joined. Paul was not merely writing to record history, but to prove a point: That Yeshua’s vision for the world was more valid than the vision of the clean-unclean divide. Additionally, Paul needed to explain why, if Yeshua was on the side of God, he was allowed to be killed by the Romans. The answer that Paul strikes upon is not that Yeshua was physically resurrected but that he was “awakened” and “exalted” by God after his death. Paul fleshes out his answer in the texts he wrote between 50 and 60 CE by interpreting Yeshua through an apocalyptic framework and situating him in a long line of powerful prophets who had the authority to speak on behalf of God. All the powerful Jewish prophets before Yeshua exhibited a pattern of persecution and vindication in their lives. The prophet would arrive on the scene, speak on behalf of God, be persecuted by wicked men and eventually be vindicated by God. Yet God did not vindicate Yeshua while he was alive. To the contrary, Yeshua died an ignominious death as a revolutionary at the hands of the Romans. Paul’s solution to the lack of vindication during Yeshua’s life was to argue that Yeshua was vindicated after his death. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul states that “God greatly exalted [Yeshua], and bestowed on him the name that is above every other name” (Philippians 2:9). If God exalted Yeshua then his life fits the familiar persecution and vindication framework making him a legitimate prophet and his vision for the world authoritative. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul states that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures” and that Yeshua appeared to Peter, to the Twelve disciples, more than five hundred Christians, to James and finally to Paul. Although it may appear at first glance that Paul is describing a physical resurrection, it is important to note that the Greek word that gets translated as “raised” is egêrthai, which literally means “awakened.” Yeshua was not physically raised from the dead but was rather “awakened” by God to be “exalted” to God’s right hand. This is an expression of the importance
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of Yeshua. Similarly, when Paul speaks of Yeshua appearing to people he uses the Greek word apokalupsis which means “to be revealed.” Again, this does not mean that Yeshua physically appeared to Paul, but that Paul realized the truth of Yeshua’s faith. Apocalypticism views the struggle between good and evil in terms of a cosmic battle between God and Satan. In the Jewish tradition God’s victory over evil is marked by the resurrection of the righteous slain. Paul was very familiar with this manner of thinking, which was popular in his home town of Jerusalem and interpreted Yeshua through this framework. Yeshua’s exaltation to heaven meant that Yeshua was the “first fruits” of the general resurrection anticipated in the apocalyptic framework (I Corinthians 15:20). Since Yeshua was raised to Paradise everyone else who died after him would have that same opportunity. In order to join Yeshua in Paradise and be saved, one did not need to have faith in Jesus but rather accept the faith of Jesus, a critical distinction that is lost on most Christians today due to a poor translation of Romans 3:21-26. Indeed, Paul over and over again emphasizes the life and faith of Yeshua over and against the death of Yeshua. Later in Romans Paul states that, “if while we were still enemies [with God as a result of the cleanliness code], we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, we will be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10) Although it may have been Yeshua’s death that reconciled man to God, it was Yeshua’s life and his faith that had the power to save. For Paul, Yeshua himself was not divine, but his faith was. Accepting Yeshua’s faith and not Yeshua himself is what brings one the same exaltation that Yeshua experienced. Finally, as if to drive his point home, Paul later emphasizes that the resurrection of the dead is exclusively spiritual and not physical in nature (I Corinthians 15:4244). As Stephen Patterson points out, for Paul, the statement “Yeshua is alive” means that “Yeshua was right.” The faith of Yeshua is the point, not Yeshua himself or what happened to him after his death. Paul’s solution to the problem of how to
justify abandoning the cleanliness codes was a brilliant one. By looking back into the Hebrew Scriptures for guidance, Paul interpreted Yeshua’s life in the prophetic and apocalyptic frameworks, theologically justifying Yeshua’s faith. Unfortunately this move opened the door to further interpretive developments that ultimately shifted the focus away from Yeshua’s life and the Empire of God to Yeshua himself, his “physical resurrection” and the afterlife. Mark is the first Christian author to build upon Paul’s apocalyptic interpretation of Yeshua. Mark wrote his gospel soon after the failed Jewish revolt of 66-70CE that led to the deaths of over 100,000 Jews and the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. For Mark, as for Paul, the task at hand was not merely to record history, but to provide a justification for remaining faithful to Yeshua’s message in the face of lethal oppression. Mark achieves this goal by reading an apocalyptic narrative into Yeshua’s life, having Yeshua predict the destruction of the temple, and by ending his gospel with an image of Yeshua’s empty tomb: the obvious implication of which is that Yeshua physically rose from the dead (Mark 13, Mark 16). Mark should not necessarily be condemned for his embellishment of Yeshua’s life; he merely did what he thought was necessary to hold together the young movement built on Yeshua’s faith. Believing that Yeshua had the power to read the future and predict the temple’s destruction made it easier to accept the reassuring promise of a quickly approaching apocalypse that Mark placed in Yeshua’s mouth. This apocalyptic belief that God would soon radically break into the world and right injustice likely helped many Christians maintain their faith during those trying times. Mark was too subtle to resort to presenting Yeshua’s physically resurrected body to the reader, but his depiction of the empty tomb hinted that Yeshua was physically risen. This depiction of the tomb was originally intended to underscore Mark’s main point that Yeshua was the Messiah and that his faith was true. Later, extra material was added on to the Gospel of Mark that did have Yeshua physically appear after his death.
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These scenes however, were not part of Mark’s personal composition but were added to bring Mark “up to speed” with the later Gospels which did depict Yeshua as physically resurrected. Although Mark’s version of Yeshua’s life significantly alters what likely happened, the subsequent Gospel writers are the ones who get truly carried away. When Matthew and Luke pen their Gospels between 85 and 90 CE the emphasis on Yeshua’s physical resurrection becomes almost overwhelming. Building on Mark’s account, their Gospels have Yeshua physically appearing to numerous people after his death and it is at this point that the focus of Christianity begins to seriously lose its original orientation. More and more Yeshua is being depicted as divine, with his resurrection beginning to overshadow the significance of his faith and way of life. One story which particularly demonstrates how creative the gospel writers got in their work is an account of a mass resurrection which appears in Matthew. Matthew 27:52-53 tells us that after Yeshua’s resurrection, The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city [Jerusalem] and appeared to many people. It would be difficult for any modern observer to take this talk of people physically rising from the dead seriously. One could imagine what a stir it would create if hundreds of dead people from the cemeteries of San Francisco rose from their graves and started wandering around on Market Street. The newspapers, radio and TV would be filled with news of the extraordinary event and everyone would have some story to tell about what happened that day. The world would hold its breath and stop to ponder the significance of the resurrections; history would be forever impacted. One would expect a similarly strong reaction in Jerusalem to the resurrections depicted in Matthew, yet this is not what we observe. If this sort of thing actually happened, it would serve as excellent proof that the
faith of Yeshua was worth holding, and that Yeshua was truly something special. Because of this it would make sense for the event to appear in all Christian accounts of the time. Yet none of the other canonical gospels record this event, an extremely puzzling omission if Matthew’s story were literally true. Additionally, an event of this uniquely unusual nature would certainly make it into the Roman annals of history, but neither Flavius Josephus nor Tacitus, Roman historians who do mention Yeshua’s life and his execution, record resurrection of Jesus or the mass resurrection mentioned in Matthew. The lack of corroboration from such critical sources should lead us to believe that Matthew’s story was a fabrication. What should be taken away from this account is not the belief that people physically rose from the dead, but rather the recognition that in a pre-modern society filled with myths and a complex pantheon of gods, such resurrection stories were often told and were readily accepted by the people. The inclusion of such a story in Matthew ultimately serves to underscore the efforts the gospel writers were making to try and justify the faith of Yeshua as being legitimate. John takes the process begun in Mark and furthered by Matthew and Luke to a whole new level. In John’s Gospel, written around 90CE, Yeshua is completely divine and existed with God before his earthly birth (John 1). The post-resurrection appearances in John are the most vivid and dramatic of all the gospel accounts; at this point they have become the centerpiece of a new faith based on the person of Yeshua and not his message. When Yeshua is arrested his voice alone has the power to cause a large group of Roman soldiers to fall trembling to their knees (John 18). On the cross, Yeshua does not so much die but willfully give up his spirit, in total control until the very end (John 19). It is in John that we truly begin to lose sight of Yeshua’s humanity in favor of a God-man who is in complete control. Having already passed through the interpretive frameworks of Paul, Mark, Matthew and Luke, the Yeshua that remains when John is through with his Gospel bears only passing resemblance to the Yeshua depicted in Thomas and the
Q Gospel. Over the course of a mere 60 years, Yeshua changed from a person just like you or I who risked his life for a vision of God’s Empire to God himself. Yeshua started out as a brave human being but wound up a supremely confident deity. He began as an empowering prophet drawing attention to the willful creation of God’s Empire, but ended as a transcendent being demanding worship and devotion. From a Yeshua who insisted that the focus of our lives should be on others and radical acceptance we get a Yeshua who insists that we focus on and radically accept him as divine and risen from the dead. At this point, one can see that the heart of Yeshua’s message was ultimately lost in the interpretation of his death. If Yeshua was a human being just like us, we must remember that he had faith in much the same way that we do. Like us, he had no guarantee that he was correct. He believed that the old system of cleanliness codes had been abolished and that the law of love and acceptance trumped the laws of judgment and exclusion. Yeshua’s faith was a radical faith that was going places; it was attempting to include more and more people in that category we call “us,” in the hopes that eventually there would be no more “them.” But at Yeshua’s abrupt death, a transformation occurred. His followers made Christianity not about Yeshua’s faith, but about Yeshua himself. Had the focus been on the faith of Yeshua, instead of faith in Yeshua, Christianity may have continued his project of the loving inclusion of more and more social outcasts. Instead, his faith was cut off where it stopped in favor of faith in him. What was a living, vibrant, and courageously held faith of progressive social activism became one with static dogmas and a redrawn clean/unclean divide. Yeshua was taking a risk with his life, the ultimate risk. He was staking his entire existence upon the belief that God was more interested in us loving each other than in defining who was righteous and who was not, who was going to ascend to heaven and who would be left behind. For us as it was for Paul, the meaning of “Jesus is alive” should be “Jesus was right.” Restoring the focus of Christianity from Yeshua’s physical resurrection, back to his life and practice of radical acceptance, would make at
least some of the disagreements between Christianity and the culture at large disappear. When beliefs about Yeshua’s physical resurrection no longer guarantee the inerrancy of the Bible and the political views derived from it, Evangelicals would be more open to new and different political stances. Christianity could become an Empire of God where homosexuals, exconvicts, homeless people and others who are “ritually unclean” would be welcome as equals at the table of fellowship. Yet even if modern Christians reject this view and a subsequent return to the roots of Christianity, this examination of the resurrection should draw attention to the humanly constructed nature of the Bible. Paul and his counterparts were interpreting the life of Yeshua, doing their best but ultimately making it up as they went along. Understanding this should offer Christians the freedom to reconsider the exclusionary doctrines in Christianity that reconstruct the ancient clean-unclean divide that Yeshua worked so hard to tear down. It is up to us to continue the heroic task of interpreting Yeshua’s life and faith that Paul began. Yet lest this essay seems to be demanding compromise only from the Evangelicals, I have a hope for the secular liberals as well. Those of us who do not find religion a useful way to find meaning in our lives must learn how to dialogue respectfully with those who do. We too must understand the difference between the person of Yeshua and the message now preached in his name. There are many valuable lessons we can learn from his life and teachings, and we should not reject religion outright simply because it has at times gone astray from its noble ideals. The insensitive polemics of Richard Dawkins and others like him will not help to further the cause of human solidarity. We must learn to understand and respect Christianity, arguing our points respectfully, effectively and without derision. In the end, armed with improved knowledge about the resurrection, Christians and secular liberals alike should feel free to develop new views on divisive sociopolitical issues such as homosexuality that will further the radical acceptance Yeshua preached as the Empire of God. L
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You, in your football sweatshirt and your hair cropped so short that after months of having watched it flow into your eyes our grandfather says that you look like a Buddha-monk, gazing down at the table with your hands in your pockets, your wide-mouthed grin holding no more traces of the brackets gone at last from a jawbone still too large— smirking down at the Thanksgiving turkey, though this year at your insistence it is a turducken: chicken inside a duck inside a turkey, that our father and grandmother got up at six a.m. to stuff, the pater (so you call him) shaking his head while he measured out four cups of salt, one of sugar to brine the meat, stirred gently and left to soak overnight for best flavor while the mater shook her head to leave you alone. It is your last Thanksgiving before you are to leave behind your library book sale novels, your collection of unlabeled CD’s, your guitar with the sour top string that you never would tune though I cringed each time you picked out Metallica on a failing upper note, and the one perfect hole punched, round, in the dining room wall from the time you leaned just an inch too far back in your chair. When it was my turn I wanted dinner the way it always was: standard American turkey and bubbling pots of Chinese broth, But you, with your turducken, declared a coup in mid-October, and our parents could do nothing but nod, and follow along grumbling, because after all, when you left, who would clear our grandfather’s bowl from the table in the evenings, turn the house upside down to find a sheet the right color for a movie backdrop, fill the hard drive with music that nobody listened to, or the desktop with spyware that blocked the internet for a month, and absently swing the grocery bag containing birthday cake around your knees so that after dinner we had to wipe the spattered icing from the inside of the box? While the noise of guests thickens about your skull-smooth fuzz and the steam scrolls up to the windows behind you, you press your thoughts towards the game, and how you stood with one hand snuggled tight to the helmet, hoping to ignore the band that droned laboriously on behind, because you could not turn, lest the shrill of a piccolo cased one year in dust draw you back again into the shadow of the sister who watches you now: little brother, grown up, smirking down at the brown-gray layers of fowl with all the triumph in the world. —IRIS LAW 12
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“This was always the highlight of his morning, for the Emperor was absolutely wild about his wardrobe.”
FAMILY PHOTOGRAPH, THANKSGIVING 2005
ILLUSTRATION FROM “THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES,” KELLIE BROWNELL, KILLEEN HANSON
“EXAMINING THE SEA” 14 KYLE HAYNESLELAND QUARTERLY WINTER 2007
π to pi
ODERN GUIDE . BY STEVEN TAGLE
I never planned to become a pi junkie. I never thought I’d become intimately familiar with the Holy Grail of geeks and math majors, or know that its sixty-forth digit was three. But handsome Derek made me learn it, digit by stubborn digit, as we raced up the stairwell of the psychology department each morning on our way to class. “Let’s go, Sammy!” he cried, leaping over the railing and onto the stairs. “3.14-1-5-9…” I hurried after him, clinging to the railing as if it were the lone cable strung over a bottomless pit. The staircase filled me with a continuous, numbing terror. The steps were made out of concrete, rectangular slabs precariously attached to a skinny white beam. As I climbed them, I could see through the stairs and through the stairs below them to the first and second floor landings. Climbing so high, so fast, activated my eczema. I scratched my arms for relief and focused on Derek’s calf muscles. They pumped up and down hypnotically, pistons beneath the skin. “…2-6-5-3-5-8-9-7-9-3-2-3-8-4-6…” We counted between breaths. “Faster!” he said, “faster!” He lifted his chin and swung his arms, coaxing numbers out of me like notes of music. Only Derek could make me recite sixty-four digits while running after him up a stairwell. As I trailed behind him, I thought once again that he should have pursued his Masters in drama, not psychology. The boy was almost twentyfive, but cute enough that he could still be immature and get away with it. Girls ran to him like well-trained rats, and he
flirted shamelessly. I had known him for two years. The thought came to me often, flickering through my mind like some great accomplishment. Two whole years. My parents knew each other for less than a year before they got married. The first sixty-four digits of pi contained seven twos. “…2-6-4-3-3-8-3-2-7-9-5-0-2-8-8-4-19-7-1-6-9-3-9-9-3-7-5-1-0-5-8-2-0…” There were ninety steps in the stairwell, each step—each gap between the steps—a little piece of hell. I wondered what the ninetieth digit of pi was. An elevator soared past us, and I could hear its happy chiming through the walls. It chimed to the beat of pi. Some jerk posted a sign on the third floor landing that said “NO RUNNING.” It was shiny and new, with letters in bold caps, serious as a heart attack. I pointed it out to Derek to see what he would do. Grabbing the railing, he leapt onto the wall, tracking dirty sneaker prints across the sign. I kissed the “O” that his shoe missed, transforming it into a pair of thick, red lips. “You’re such a beauty,” he said. “Am I?” I wanted to hear him say it again. He cocked his head at me. “For a girl.” “…9-7-4-9-4-4-5-9-2-3!” I said. That was it. Sixty-four digits of pi. “3.1-4-1-5-9-2-6-5-3-5….” he replied. I grinned at him, and he grinned back. This guy better be worth it, I thought.
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f I concentrated hard enough, I could remember snippets of our life before pi. Taking the stairs each morning was one of our pre-pi rituals. That, too, was Derek’s doing. About a week before the quarter started, he accidentally hooked up with Blaine “Rabbit” Crawford, a guy from our lab he found adorably repressed. I had never paid too much attention to Blaine. I only knew him as the Rabbit King, a tall, pale guy who studied anger suppression in bunny rabbits and said “obviously” a lot when he got nervous. He was a six, a seven tops. “You should’ve seen him afterwards,” Derek moaned, nuzzling his face into the gap between my neck and shoulder. It was my first night back from a summer abroad, and we lay side by side in my bed, listening to the sounds of our new apartment. “It’s like I’m not meant to have any guy friends, like I’m unable to suppress the mildest attraction.” He hugged me tightly, and I struggled to be more present in his arms, to calm him with the simple pressure of my body against his. Boyfriends and hook-ups came and went, but friends filled beds when lovers were gone. “Why can’t they be like you, Sammy?” he said. “You’re more of a man than most of the guys I date anyway.” The guys he dated inevitably hurt him, and when he was soft and broken, he came to me. Consoling him was what I did best. After he hooked up with Rabbit, Derek gave up the elevator. I didn’t blame him. Throw me in an elevator with one of my ex-hook-ups, and I’d scratch my arms off before the doors closed. When the quarter started, he somehow convinced me to join him on his morning aerobics, running up and down five flights of stairs to class. “Come on,” he said, “we need the exercise.”
fter Derek crammed the sixtyfourth digit of pi into my brain, I lost the cognitive capacity for politeness or tact. The average person can fit about seven random digits into his short term memory. Sixty-four was a beast that had set up shop in my head. All this work for Mr. Pi the Pi Guy, and I still didn’t know any juicy details about him. We sat in the fifth floor conference room, waiting for Professor Owlan to arrive, when
Derek prompted me to begin our twelfth repetition of pi. “Tell me his name or get lost,” I grumbled. Rabbit crouched at the front of the room, struggling to plug his clunky gray laptop into the projector so that he could present his research on anger suppression. He got so adorably tangled in his VGA cable that I found myself completely unwilling to help him. Derek swiveled his chair to face me. He didn’t seem fazed by my demand, but when he opened his mouth, he broke into a smile so wide that the whole shape of his face changed. For a moment, he had difficulty forming words. “You won’t believe it,” he said finally. “Sam. His name’s Sam.” I’d often fantasized about Derek bringing home a guy named Sam. “We have the same name,” I’d say when I hugged him at the door. “We’re like twins, you and I. Derek’s indispensable Sams.” If I could share enough traits with him, maybe he could share the experience, the feeling of being with Derek, with me. If Sam and I were close enough, maybe I wouldn’t grow to hate him. Almost of one mind, Derek and I had very similar tastes in men. Take Rabbit, for example. He was too tall and too pale, but not altogether unattractive to the discerning eye. “So how’d you meet him?” “At the café. Monday, after you left.” “Monday?” On Monday afternoons, we had coffee at the Brokedown Café. We ordered Daily Dysfunctions, a trippio espresso with dashes of rum. He always paid. “I was trying to recalculate the figures for my grant, but this guy in the booth behind me kept spouting off random numbers. So I turn around, and I’m like ‘Listen, buddy.’ And this guy’s totally hot. Like in a way that represents America and all that.” “Does he have good skin?” “Well, he scratches, but you can hardly tell.” I looked down at my arms, splotched red from our run up the stairs. Where was my hydrocortisone when I needed it? I felt an instant bond with people who scratched like I did. Maybe Sam and I could share something. “So when he turned to me, naturally
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I was like….” Derek let his jaw fall slack and his eyes glaze over. “That good, huh? A ten?” “At least a twelve.” He grinned at me. “I’m totally keeping this one.” Rabbit was still fussing with his laptop when Professor Owlan came in, late as usual. I watched his cursor wander across the projection screen and toggle the volume settings. You won’t get sound, I thought, without an audio cable. What a space cadet. At the end of his presentation, Rabbit started his silent video and sat down next to me, eyes closed, passing a week’s anxiety. His rabbits twitched their noses furiously on screen, demonstrating “covert anger behavior.” Derek refused to take notes in pen; he stealthily reached into my bag for a pencil, but I kicked him away. I didn’t like people fishing around in my purse. Rabbit leaned over to me. “The screaming,” he whined, “you can’t hear the screaming.” He had a deep voice, deeper than you’d expect from a man who played with rabbits. On my other side, Derek hiked up my skirt and scrawled “Sammy wants Rabbit!” across my thigh with his pen. I laid a reassuring hand on Rabbit’s arm and laughed softly in his ear.
abbit seems healthier,” I said, cleaning up after a quick lunch. The compliment screamed high school crush almost as much as the smudgedout pen marks on my thigh. Hoping that Derek would be at least a little jealous, I absorbed myself in washing plates, meticulously scrubbing each tube of macaroni down the sink. “He’s not your type,” Derek said. He shoved a hand down his pants, scratching himself as he handed me his plate. “How do you know?” I asked. People always hassled me for falling in love with gay men. They made it sound like I sought out gay guys to turn them straight. That was completely off base. It just happened that most of the guys who interested me turned out to have the hots for other men. Derek yanked bottles of cranberry juice and vodka out of the fridge with both hands. The cranberry juice still had a red bow tied around its neck. “You’re going to break those girls’ hearts,” I said.
The undergrads in Derek’s section fell so easily for his sly, boyish smile, his hugs that were warm and cryptic. Every quarter, they invited him to dinner in their dorms, and I made him bring me back juice mixers. He’d tell them that he was a poor grad student with a weakness for cranberries, then return to our apartment with three or four bottles tucked under his arm. He squeezed a lime into my Cosmopolitan, licking the juice off his fingertips. “It’s just a game,” he said. “Besides, I dress way too well to be straight.” I pitied these girls, but mooching off their dorms’ cranberry juice made the drink that much sweeter. I could see what attracted them to Derek. In my opinion, he wasn’t really gay. He liked men, but everyone liked men nowadays. There were guys in our department who thought that being gay entitled them to high heels and a tiara. I liked this one guy in developmental until he asked me to help him paint his nails. He wanted to have a “girls’ night out.” After that, I avoided him like Brand X pads. “Oh, Sammy,” Derek said, frowning as he handed me my glass. Checking my right hand, I discovered a large, cratershaped cut in the dry flesh between my thumb and forefinger. A shiny film of plasma or something covered it, so I figured it was fresh. I didn’t notice it this morning, I thought huffily. Even with the ointment I religiously applied, I often scratched in my sleep. “It’s because you never cut your nails,” Derek said. “I know they’re pretty, but guys’ll never notice them if you keep scratching like that.” He took my hand in his, and while stroking it with strong, square-tipped fingers, he held it up as proof. It looked a lot like a slab of raw meat with a French manicure. God, I thought. I hated the public nature of skin. “I’ll pick up some of those moisturizing gloves the next time I’m at the store,” Derek said, sipping his Cosmo. “Sam told me they’d do wonders for your skin.” “You told him about my skin problem?” Derek’s boyfriends entertained me like the characters on TV sitcoms. I watched them, but I didn’t know they watched me back. And even though Sam
scratched as well, I planned to bring it up myself. Now we’d have one less amazing similarity to bond over when we met. My hands were getting hot. I absentmindedly rubbed my knuckles against the sides of my wrists. The noise it made was dry and comforting. “I thought he might have some tips,” Derek said. I hid my hands in my lap and scratched some more. I enjoyed picking at the tough, tingling scabs.
Derek took our glasses, rinsed them once, and left them in the sink. “We need wooden hangers too,” he said. “For button-down shirts, Sam says they’re a must.”
t had been a long time since I last derived pleasure from numbers. I first learned about pi in the fourth grade, but didn’t really understand that it was a number until the sixth grade, when Mrs.
ODALISQUE Some bauble, some fragment-thing— Some ornamental—missed The way a fog is missed: Solemnly fucking solemnly. Syllables (fever, listen) make up (make-up?) a photograph (a photograph of someone, JFK, alive, looking sad and alive) It can be your name, can it? Many words sound like your name (embedded). We know as fact They would play chess at Troy— Unlike Helen, bored Helen— Minds sharp and out of focus Like the blind throttling the blind.
—A. JARED SCHAEFER
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Steinberger declared March 14 official Pi Day. She insisted that we memorize the first ten digits as homework the night before, and that day in class, she threw a giant pi party. She helped us move our desks to form that funny-looking symbol, and we sang our ten digits to the tune of “Happy Birthday” while we danced between pi’s legs. After sixty-four, the digits came easy. Derek and I chanted them as we climbed up the stairs, rocketing to the fifth floor in a flurry of numbers. 3.1-4-15-9-2-6-5-3-5-2-3-8-4-6-2-6-4-3-3-8-3-2-79-5-0-2-8-8-4-1-9-7-1-6-9-3-9-9-3-7-5-1-05-8-2-0-9-7-4-9-4-4-5-9-2-3-0-7-8-1-6-4-06-2-8-6-2-0-8-9-9-8-6-2-8-0-3-4-8-2-5. We reached ninety digits, then one hundred. Derek became a math department groupie. He started giving his lab presentations without notes, spouting off percentages, correlation coefficients, and standard deviations like designer brand names. Sometimes I wondered how Sam rewarded him for learning pi. Did he round a new base at every hundred digits? The possibilities were endless. Although I wasn’t as good with numbers, I too began to crave them. One hundred digits were, come to think of it, insignificant in the grand scheme of pi. I wanted to know two hundred, three hundred. Pi held the promise of mastery and possession, each number offering itself up to be my next thrilling conquest. The day Derek and I broke a hundred and fifty, We lay sprawled out on the fifth floor landing, struggling to catch our breaths. I now knew that the ninetieth digit of pi was a five, and could casually dangle my hand into the rectangular space between the stairs. The cold concrete tickled the back of my neck, so I inched my head up onto Derek’s stomach. It was only 9:22, the earliest we had been to class all quarter. Not bad, especially for a Monday. In two hours, Derek and I would be sitting down to our Daily Dysfunctions at the Brokedown Café. “Sam says that pi is like poetry,” Derek mused, smoothing the wrinkles in his rolled-up shirt sleeves. “They’re both overanalyzed to death.” I closed my eyes and listened to him talk, imagining us back in bed instead of lying awkwardly in the stairwell. My head lolled to the
rhythm of his breaths, falling from ab to ab. He was the perfect headrest. “Sammy?” “Hmmm?” At the moment, it was all I could manage. “Is it okay if we don’t do coffee today?” “What?” I sat up to face him. “What do you mean?” Derek squirmed up against the railing. “Sam wanted to go to the Brokedown Café today.” He blurted the words out quickly, shutting his eyes in terror of me. Derek and I hardly fought, but when we did, I gave him a thrashing. “Take him tomorrow!” I yelled. It made me even angrier that a part of me found him cute backed up against the railing, cornered, like a rat. I realized that I had been scratching at a dry patch of skin on my arm and scattering tiny white flakes into the rectangular abyss. Derek was toast. I leaned in for the kill. When he sensed me near him, Derek pushed his forehead against mine and gave me the saddest puppy dog look in the history of the world. His furrowed eyebrows tickled my forehead. Though his face blocked out the light, I could see the line where his contact lenses separated the white of his eyes from the brown, and his breath hit my nose in cool, minty gusts. It was so close to a kiss. My hands flailed around wildly until I found the railing. “Please?” he whispered. He looked even cuter when he needed something; begging gave him an excuse to flirt with me. I wondered if he thought I smelled sweet. Derek threw his arms around me and pulled me to him. We lay roughly horizontal on the landing, and he started gnawing playfully on the collar of my shirt. When his nose nudged my neck, goosebumps broke out like bad acne. I couldn’t believe I was going to let him ditch me. “I love you!” he said, “I love you!” Now he was going on a real coffee date with a real guy. I felt so stupid for always pretending that our dates were real, that our traditions were sacred. We were the greatest things that ever happened to each other. Samantha and Derek. Professor Owlan even called us “The Twins.” I gazed at Derek’s strong, smiling face and inhaled his minty breath, thinking how little I had that was truly mine. He
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leaned in and planted a sloppy kiss on my cheek.
e didn’t come home until late that evening. I was reading Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams on the couch when he rambled into our apartment, slightly buzzed, his arms lost in the sleeves of his half-buttoned shirt. “Hey beauty,” he said, “I got you something.” He pulled a pair of white cotton gloves out of his back pocket and thrust it at me. “Courtesy of Sam, eh? Eh?” I looked him over with a prudish suspicion that instantly and painfully reminded me of my mother. “What’d you guys do?” “Drank. Hung out. Made out.” Derek rambled towards me, but I held an arm out to stop him. He needed a shower badly. Sweat stains darkened the armpits of his favorite shirt. “One of your buttons is missing.” Derek grinned. “Sam’s fault.” Then he pushed past me to his room, slamming the door shut behind him. Minutes later, his nasal snoring filled our apartment. I tried to keep reading. I tried to appreciate “The Dream as WishFulfillment,” but Derek’s snoring was just too loud. After shutting off all the lights and appliances, I decided to go in and check on him. He lay on his bed, outside the covers, with his soiled shirt hanging limply from his arm. He had managed to get it off, but forgot that final step of shrugging it to the floor before he conked out. His snoring was unbearable. I knelt down at his side and tugged the shirt loose from his grip. The fabric was damp with sweat, but it wasn’t all his. Holding it to my nose, I could smell the odor of another man quite distinctly. It smelled too sweet, like a lollipop melting in the sun. I didn’t like the way it mixed with the subtle fragrance of Derek’s musky cologne. Why hadn’t Derek introduced me to Sam yet? He talked about Sam less than he talked about any of the other guys he dated. I knew that Rabbit wore pink boxer briefs to bed. I knew that alcohol made him lithe and graceful, that I’d probably like the pale beanpole even better when he was smashed. What did I know about Sam? Zippo. So he liked
UNTITLED MAE RYAN
pi. Big deal. He was still an abstraction, as remote to me as pi’s millionth digit, whatever it was. I hypothesized three reasons for Derek’s silence. Hypothesis 1: Maybe Sam was in the closet. I knew lots of guys who pretended to be straight while they ran around with other men. Hypothesis 2: Maybe Sam was abnormal. Maybe he was obese, or paraplegic, or a transvestite. I didn’t like Hypothesis 3: Maybe Derek and Sam are better off without you. Maybe their relationship is none of your business, so you should back off. Derek’s snoring died down to a low whimper, so I turned to watch him sleep. He looked even more like a boy now. Sleep relaxed the overactive muscles in his face and drew soft brown hair down over his eyes. How would it feel to be loved by this boy? How would it feel to be the one he desired? I wished that for once I could be the one he talked about, the one who gave him pleasure. I could give him the best blowjob, I thought suddenly. Right here, right now. I glanced up at his
thick, heaving chest and dared to trace his ribs with my fingers. Derek likes guys, I told myself sternly. He wants blowjobs from guys. What was so great about guys anyway? If he knew, I wished he’d tell me. I wanted to know him so desperately. I wanted him to let me in on his secrets. Being straight was so ordinary. That night I slept alone, fleshing out Derek’s body with my blankets and sheets. By now, I instinctively assumed a sleeping position that accommodated him, turning on my side at the edge of the bed and bunching my down comforter around me to mimic his arms. It helped me cope with the enormity of my twin bed, helped me sleep. I watched the shadows on the ceiling flicker as people walked by the streetlight outside our apartment. Even at three in the morning, there was always a handful of rowdy undergrads roaming the streets and laughing as they passed my window. My mind wandered. 3.1-4-1-5-9-2-6. My mom bought me a red leather purse when I was six. It was a rich, Revlon Red, like the lipstick when
it’s first applied. I stuffed it with jewelry, Lego men, and fake food, carrying it with me everywhere. I wouldn’t let the kids at school see what was inside. Only I knew— I carefully handpicked each toy. One day I was chasing after my friend Jeremy and left my purse hanging on the jungle gym. By the time I finally remembered and ran back for it, a group of girls in fluffy pink skirts had emptied it out into the sandbox. They buried my Lego men in sand pyramids and served my plastic fruits to each other with rocks on plates of sand. The blonde, wide-eyed girls wore my rings and my beaded necklaces, so I screamed at them and kicked sand into their faces. I sent the sand and food and girls flying everywhere. Jeremy stood by the swings, watching me. He was my first crush. I fell asleep without rubbing hydrocortisone on my skin. That night, I scratched passionately and woke up with blood stains on my pillow. My wrists were raw.
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Was Sam really that much more appealing just because he had a penis? Was this stumpy, unimpressive appendage really that important? There were differences between men and women, and then there was just silliness.
erek was getting on my nerves. “We need to pick up the pace on pi,” he said. “3.1-4-1-5-9-2-6-5-3-5-8-9-79-3-2-3-8-4-6-2-6-4-3-3….” We knew two hundred and forty-two digits. Each number landed with a thud on the stairs in front of me and tumbled through the cracks to the landings below. The thought of pi, interminable and unwieldy, made the climb that much harder. Blame it on perceived selfefficacy or low self-esteem. For some reason, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t remember whether the two hundred and twenty-third digit was a four or a five because the numbers sounded so similar, and when you recited them that fast, who could really tell anyway? It bothered me that even if I did recite the numbers wrong, no one would be able to tell. I could just make a sequence up. Who cared if it was a four or a five? It didn’t really matter. Pi stunk of infinity. “Sam said there’s this guy in Japan who’s memorized 42,195 digits.” I was so sick of Sam. Sam cuddled. Sam scratched. Sam wore sweet-smelling colognes and had a black backpack he wouldn’t let Derek into. But—news flash—so did I! I had the eerie feeling that Sam was somehow commandeering my personality to get into Derek’s pants. Our Monday afternoon coffee breaks were officially dead. I tried to be happy for Derek, I really did. But happiness was such an impotent emotion, such a lame reason to not be angry. Was Sam really that much more appealing just because he had a penis? Was this stumpy, unimpressive appendage really that important? There were differences between men and women, and then there was just silliness. After we reached three hundred digits, Derek began sleeping over at Sam’s apartment. I stood in the
bathroom for ten minutes that morning, wondering why there was so much space on the counter. It took me a while to realize that Derek’s essentials—his gel, toothbrush, and shaving kit—were all missing. That week, I took long showers and spent whole afternoons moisturizing in my bedroom. My pillow was a mess. I scoured the apartment for band-aids, and when Rabbit saw my mummified hands, he twitched his nose with concern. “Rabbits,” I told him, “their rage was too great.”
fter class on Monday, I stole a piece of chalk out of the conference room and started to write out pi on the side of the railing next to each step. 3.1-4-1-59…. I couldn’t bear to memorize another digit. This is it, I thought. This is the last time I’m ever reciting pi. Marking up the railing offered me little comfort. The spaces between the steps seemed to widen beneath me, as if they were being stretched from both ends. Then I was vomiting pi, regurgitating all the useless numbers, and as I stumbled from slab to slab with both hands gripping the rails, I thought of Derek and Sam smiling at each other over coffee. They were there now, sharing a Daily Dysfunction at the Brokedown Café. He probably paid for Sam’s drinks too. The empty stairwell mocked me. Pi wasn’t getting me laid. My bandaged hands were so stiff and raw that the chalk kept slipping out. Eventually, I pressed so hard that the chalk snapped in my hand. One piece rolled through the concrete slabs, and I got so mad that I chucked the other piece over the railing. I watched with pleasure
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as the two halves raced each other down five flights of stairs to the brown, pebbled floor. “Everything all right?” Rabbit peered down at me from the doorway on the fifth floor landing. I didn’t even want to know how I looked to him—a crazy girl with bandaged hands crouched in the stairwell chalking pi. “What are you doing here?” I asked. “I just wanted to check on you,” he said. I was wrong; he was at least an eight. “Where’s Derek?” “Not here, obviously.” Rabbit rambled down to the step where I knelt, and I slid over to give him space. His eyes scanned the bar of white digits on the railing. “What’s that?” he asked. “Secret code.” “Secret code, huh? Do you have a decoder or something?” He was no fun. “It’s pi,” I said. “Three hundred digits of pi.” “Oh.” I could tell he had no interest in math. “So you and Derek, huh?” Rabbit stared at me, looking for all the world like one of his stressed-out bunnies. “Was it good?” I reached over and gently stroked his arm, forgetting for a moment that my hands were covered with band-aids. Rabbit didn’t flinch. His skin was pale and smooth. “Well… I mean, obviously…” He stopped and sighed. “Yeah.” Images of Derek and Rabbit hooking up flashed through my mind in graphic detail. I wondered if Rabbit knew about Sam. Suddenly, I had the most marvelous idea. “Look, you want to get some coffee? I know a place.” Rabbit nodded and took my hand as we walked down the stairs.
he Brokedown Café was the hippest coffee house in town. Its owners bought the place from a crazy old widow and decorated it to enhance the aura of neglect. On warm days, the café extended outside to an overgrown lawn. Word on the street was that the owners were against counterculture—and everything else. People were thrown out
on a regular basis for being too artsy, too emo, too sporty, too prep. Derek and I got in because one of the bartenders thought he looked hot in leather pants. I buried my head into Rabbit’s arm as we approached the café. Derek and Sam were probably still there, and if they saw me, I’d have to give up and play nice. I craved a Daily Dysfunction. It was a sunny afternoon, so Derek probably took Sam out to the secluded side of the house, the side with the dilapidated swing set that I absolutely refused to sit on. Flashing a smile at Brick, the bouncer, I steered Rabbit past the barbed-wire fence and into the café. Thankfully, the café was full enough that I didn’t have to worry too much about being seen. Wiry intellectuals sat in the booths near the windows where Derek and I used to spend our Monday afternoons. They slouched in the overstuffed seats, studying their menus so intently that they didn’t even glance up when the door creaked. Through the grimy windows, I made out two men swinging high on the swing set. When they launched themselves into the air, the rusty steel frame shook violently. Bingo. I sent Rabbit off to order two Daily Dysfunctions and chose a table in the middle of the house, facing the swing set. Two years ago, the owners of the café smashed in one of the window panes for the waitresses to use as a takeout window. It served as the perfect peeping hole. Sam looked nothing like the man I’d imagined. Derek described him as 6’2”, athletic but not dumb, but the Sam on the swings was a lean, delicate little fairy with ribboned blonde locks and a pink sarong wrapped around his waist. Derek usually dated effeminate guys, but Sam could easily pass as a woman. Dark eyeliner accentuated his eyes, and his lips were painted a suspiciously familiar shade of red. This wimpy half-man insulted me. I’d give him a two—maybe—without the skirt. He and Derek rode the swings so happily that I thought I was going to puke. Sam’s black backpack lay on the table by the swing set. He wouldn’t leave it in the grass, of course. Not if he was anything like me. I squinted to catch a glimpse of his hands as he swung by. They were blurred streaks that held the chain tightly, straining against the steel
links. He let his feet hit the ground, and as his swinging slowed, I noticed that he did have the telltale red splotches. His hands actually weren’t much better than mine, and for a moment, I felt close to him. I started scratching as I watched Sam rub at the dips between his knuckles. Derek calmly reached over, lacing his fingers with Sam’s, and they held hands while they talked. “Two espressos, coming right up!” Rabbit said. I looked up at him and smiled, hoping he didn’t call them espressos at the bar. His nose was twitching, so I could tell that the bartender gave him a hard time. He was too likeable, I decided. “Thanks for inviting me,” Rabbit said. “This is…nice.” He squirmed around in his chair to avoid sitting on the nice metal prongs that pierced through his seat cushion. In my mind, I pored over the details that Derek told me about their hook-up. The scenes I imagined swelled goosebumps on my neck. “So how’s your research coming?” “Good, good.” He nodded amiably, as if he expected me to change the subject. “I’m trying to induce covert anger behavior with electric shocks. It’s pretty tough, actually. The rabbits enter this state of learned helplessness before they toughen up.” I knew that if I got him started on his research, he could go on forever without much prompting. While he talked, I shifted my attention back to Derek and Sam. They sat on the swings, chatting up a storm as they rocked back and forth. Derek waved his arms around like an idiot, and then the two of them broke into a fit of laughter. I wondered what they were giggling about. I often found myself laughing at Derek’s jokes even if they weren’t particularly funny. Did Sam do that too, or did he actually think they were funny? I wished I could be the one laughing with Derek on the swings. I’ll sit on them this time, I promised him in my head. I swear I will. They seemed annoyingly perfect for each other. “I’m actually starting to think that there are two types of anger behavior,” Rabbit said, “Covert anger behavior and overt anger behavior.” I nodded, hoping he wouldn’t ask me what I thought later. I needed my Daily Dysfunction right now. A waitress walked up to our table
with two espressos. Like all the drinks at the Brokedown Café, the espressos were served on porcelain shards rumored to come from the old widow’s kitchen. The waitresses weren’t allowed to wear gloves and often cut their hands on the shattered plates. I waited until she set the drinks on the table and then sent them back. Rabbit apologized profusely for mucking up the order. Outside on the swing set, Derek stroked Sam’s chin and slowly leaned in to kiss him. They paused, savoring the nearness of their lips, then closed their eyes and kissed tenderly. It wasn’t making out. It was much simpler, silent and still, the way a kiss should be. I didn’t know Derek could kiss like that. They twisted to face each other, ducking under the steel chains, which crisscrossed and groaned above them. The gentle rocking of the swings brought them together, and they swayed back and forth, floating above the ground. And suddenly I didn’t want to be there anymore. I didn’t want to sit alone and watch them through a crack in the glass like some voyeur. I wanted to go home. A new waitress brought out our Daily Dysfunctions. Rabbit gulped his down, so appreciative for the experience that he even cut his pinkie on the cracked saucer. I stared down at mine, letting its steam billow into the brass café.
was mixing up a second-rate Cosmopolitan with the last of our precious cranberry juice when Derek came home for the first time in a week. “I got these for you,” he said, waving a box of wooden hangers at me. He walked straight past the kitchen and into my room. “Geez, what a mess,” I heard him say. Then I heard my closet door sliding across the carpet and the distinct chink of my wire hangers as they bounced off my side table and ricocheted around the room. I threw down the Cosmo and ran after him. “What the hell are you doing?” I screamed. Cranberry juice and vodka seeped into the cuts on my hands, stinging painfully before dripping off my fingers. Derek stood by my closet, cradling the wooden hangers in his arms. Five of my new dresses lay in a pile at his feet. They were dresses I bought at the mall a few
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weekends ago when he spent the day with Sam in the city. I hadn’t even told him about them yet. I planned to keep them a secret, hidden in my closet on the off chance that he might ask me to the Winter Gala in January. It’s good to be prepared, I thought when I bought the dresses. Who knows how long Derek and Sam will last? I tried them on late at night while Derek slept. They still had their tags, all except for an elegant white dress that I fell in love with that day at the mall. It was like a wedding dress. Simple satin body, form-fitting and elegantly cut. Why couldn’t anything be truly mine? Why did people keep stomping on my secrets? Seeing the gown in a pile at his feet reminded me of my red purse in the sandbox. It stirred an impulse to destroy. “You’ll love these hangers,” Derek said, “They maintain the shape of your clothes much better than wire ones.” I watched him dig my new white dress out of the pile and jam one of his hangers between the straps. He was about to stuff it into the closet when its label caught his eye and he pulled it back out to examine more closely. “Is this new?” Black wire hangers were strewn over my bed and lodged between rows of our framed pictures. I grabbed a hanger off the bed and began whipping him with it. I struck at his perfect arms and his chest, hoping to raise welts under his thin blue shirt. “Get out!” I screamed. “Get out! Get out! Get out!” His face froze in surprise and terror as I forced him from my room. I slammed the door and locked it shut behind him. “I’m sorry, Sammy,” he pleaded through the door. His voice was horrible and small, but the pity he stirred in me only fueled my anger. It would take a lot more than a sloppy kiss to soothe me this time. Derek paced back and forth in front of my door like a child locked out of the house. I watched his shadow shift across the bottom of the door frame. “I saw you at the café,” he said finally. I sat on the floor with my ear pressed to the door until I heard him leave.
ate that night, I awoke to the heaviness of Derek’s hand on mine. “I told you to wear the gloves,” he
said. “I did,” I mumbled groggily. “They must’ve fallen off.” Then I remembered
throwing the gloves away the day I found the bathroom empty. I held up my hands and squinted at them in the dark. They didn’t look so bad. A little puffy, but nothing a dab of cortisone wouldn’t fix. Derek stood over me in boxers and a t-shirt that read, “Trust Me, I’m a Virgin.” I turned on my side, making room for him in bed. He slid in without a word, and I wondered if something happened between him and Sam. “Sammy?” In the dark, he sounded like a kid whose nightmares had gotten the best of him. His breath hit the back of my neck in warm spurts. “Yeah?” “What are all those dresses for?” he asked. “Rabbit,” I replied, grabbing a fistful of the sheets. I was too tired for truth. “They’re all for Rabbit. Every single one.” “I’m sorry,” Derek said quietly, wrapping his arms around me. “I didn’t know.” His chest was warm and sticky from a recent shower, and when he pressed against me, heat radiated through my body like sunshine. This must be how it felt on the swings, I thought. His strong arms were smooth and fresh, and I concentrated on all the tiny spots where they touched my skin. “His skin’s pretty,” I said. “Your skin’s pretty,” he said, running his hands up and down my arms, “prettier than you think.” His fingers grazed the rough, red spots on my arms, raising wave after wave of goosebumps. He nosed his way into the space under my chin and began to nibble and kiss my neck. Was he for real? I let myself respond to him, rolling my head up to expose my neck. I could smell no alcohol on his breath, and his stream of kisses flowed fluidly, consciously. I dug my nails into the sheets. Kiss me like you kiss Sam, I thought. Kiss me like you love me. The last time we cuddled together, I tried to memorize his skin, the feel of his muscles hard against my back. Now, the familiarity of his skin surprised me, and it pleased me to think that I retained some measure of his body, some trace memory of life in his arms. I could feel him pressing up against my back through his boxers. He was longer than I imagined, big for a boy. I flinched when he reached under my shirt. I’m not beautiful, I thought. It
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surprised me how quickly and apologetically the thought formed. His fingers traced scabs around my nipples, cuts in the most private parts of me. I tried to imagine my body as he would, struggling to accentuate the parts that felt most masculine. I held in my breath, tightening the muscles in my abs. My breasts were much bigger than a man’s, and they embarrassed me. More than anything, I longed to turn around to meet his gaze, but his tight hug kept me pressed to the wall. I began to scratch myself erratically, seeking a rhythm. I heard a rustle as Derek wriggled out of his boxers. Why wouldn’t he let me turn around? Why wouldn’t he let me see him? We won’t be able to kiss like this, I thought frantically. He pressed into me with quiet determination. The pain was overwhelming. “Sammy,” he yelped, “Oh, Sam….” His whole body was set to mine, and when he quaked, I quaked too. “Sammy,” I said, “Call me Sammy.” I couldn’t breathe. “Oh, Sam,” he insisted, “Sam! Sam!” He plunged deeper into me, taking everything. And I could only stare at the wall, digging into cuts that were mine alone. We fucked to a rhythm, and the rhythm was pi. His hugs and kisses were not mine, and the intimacies he whispered bloodied my fingernails. I would have struggled if struggling would have made him stop. The guy had stamina—I’d give him that. His t-shirt stuck to us both, became invisible with sweat. When he kissed me, I turned my face into the pillow, hoping I too could disappear. Pi was our mantra, our species of seduction. I mouthed it into my pillow, repeating the numbers until morning came: 3.1-4-1-5-92-6-5-3-5-8-9-7-9-3-2-3-8-4-6-2-6-4-3-3-8-32-7-9-5-0-2-8-8-4-1-9-7-1-6-9-3-9-9-3-7-5-10-5-8-2-0-9-7-4-9-4-4-5-9-2-3-0-7-8-1-6-4-06-2-8-6-2-0-8-9-9-8-6-2-8-0-3-4-8-2-5-3-4-21-1-7-0-6-7-9-8-2-1-4-8-0-8-6-5-1-3-2-8-2-30-6-6-4-7-0-9-3-8-4-4-6-0-9-5-5-0-5-8-2-2-31-7-2-5-3-5-9-4-0-8-1-2-8-4-8-1-1-1-7-4-5-02-8-4-1-0-2-7-0-1-9-3-8-5-2-1-1-0-5-5-5-9-64-4-6-2-2-9-4-8-9-5-4-9-3-0-3-8-1-9-6-4-4-28-8-1-0-9-7-5-6-6-5-9-3-3-4-4-6-1-2-8-4-7-56-4-8-2-3-3-7-8-6-7-8-3-1-6-5-2-7-1-2-0-1-90-9-1-4-5-6-4-8-5-6-6-9-2-3-4-6-0-3-4-8-6-10-4-5-4-3-2-6-6-4-8-2-1-3-3-9-3-6-0-7-2-60-2-4-9-1-4-1-2-7-3…. L
FIERY VIVID N
obel Prize-winning novelist V..S. Naipaul is a provocative and contentious figure. He is of mixed race, conflicted heritage, and divided sentiment. His family is Hindu; he was raised in Trinidad; he is half Indian and half Trinidadian; he lives in England; he is haunted by the colonial histories of all his homelands. His relationship to his complex background comes through in most of the sixteen novels and fifteen works of nonfiction he has published between 1957 and the present. As David P. Lichtenstein puts it, Naipaul’s “inability to form spiritual connections with his heritage, be it Trinidadian, Indian, or even British, dominates his thought as it appears in his work.” In his 2001 Nobel lecture, Naipaul puts it this way: “When I became a writer [the] areas of darkness around me as a child—“[t]he land; the aborigines; the New World; the colony; the history; India; the Muslim world, to which I also felt myself related; [and] Africa”— “became my subjects.” For Naipaul, the struggle to connect with his heritage is a struggle to illuminate darkness. Many critics, notably Edward Said, see Naipaul’s project of illuminating “areas of darkness” as biased and insufficiently supportive of postcolonial, nonwestern causes. For Said, in conceptualizing his subjects—most of whom are natives of the developing world—as beings of “darkness,” Naipaul “allow[s] himself quite consciously to be turned into a witness for the Western prosecution,” sustaining rather than subverting “colonial mythologies about wogs and darkies.” Similarly, Hilton Als accuses Naipaul of ridiculing and disdaining many of his subjects, of being “dismissive…toward everything ‘peasant’ and ‘tribal’—which is to say, black, poor, [and] illiterate.” Many writers, too, like Naipaul’s fellow West Indian Nobel Prize winner Derek Walcott, are uneasy about his attitude toward the nonwestern world. Walcott chides Naipaul
V. S. Naipaul, Nikolai Gogol and the Illumination of Darkness BY KEVIN HILKE
So V. S. Naipaul finally gets the prize. It’s said he’s willing, through unblinking eyes, To make his observations, then recall The bleakest Third World countries, warts and all. While valuing his writing, I still think It wouldn’t hurt if, now and then, he’d blink. —Calvin Trillin, “On V. S. Naipaul’s Nobel Prize”
for dismissing Trinidadian artists as primitive, cultureless “bongo islanders”; for Walcott, the artistic life of the West Indies is “quite nurturing and rich.” Many contend that Naipaul minimizes or misses this richness, choosing instead to portray postcolonial societies as backwards and unenlightened. Naipaul’s supporters answer that though Naipaul’s work perpetuates stereotypes like that of the “bongo islander,” it also forces us to confront our own fictions about the developing world. As Lichtenstein puts it, Naipaul employs his “penetrating vision” to “[knock] down idealized views of the places he journeys to…in favor of a more complex, bitter, sometimes even contradictory truth.” The debate between those who see Naipaul’s project as productive and those who do not recalls a contemporary debate about the prejudices of one of Naipaul’s literary ancestors, Joseph Conrad. In awarding Naipaul the Nobel Prize, the Swedish Academy called him “Conrad’s heir as the annalist of the destinies of
empires in the moral sense: what they do to human beings.” Both authors depict how imperialism affects humans; but for some, these depictions themselves smack of imperialism. As Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe famously puts it, speaking of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, an inquiry into imperialism can also be a “celebration” of “dehumanization.” Achebe accuses Conrad of depicting Africans as unhuman—as a melee of “limbs” and “rolling eyes”; that “[leap] and sp[i]n and ma[k]e horrid faces” in a “black and incomprehensible frenzy.” For Achebe, Conrad means this frenzy to be the antithesis of “Europe [,] and therefore of civilization.” Conrad, Achebe asserts, is haunted by “the lurking hint of kinship” between himself and the Africans he represents—he is worried that the black frenzy may spread to white men. Naipaul echoes Conrad in ways that are unlikely to please Achebe—he, too, can be read as positing a frenzied non-west against an enlightened west.
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In Naipaul’s novel A Bend in the River, he speaks of the “frenzy” of “faces of Africa.” This Conradian description is amplified in “A Little Paperwork”—the “Traveller’s Prelude” to Naipaul’s 1964 travelogue An Area of Darkness—in which Naipaul, traveling by boat from Europe to India, feels Europe giving way to “chaos of uneconomical movement”; he feels its “physique” “melt[ing] away” “into that of Africa,” in which “men [are] diminished and deformed.” When Naipaul’s ship confronts “the tedium of the African ports,” he laments that “four of the passengers [have] not been inoculated against yellow fever.” This is partially Naipaul’s concern for his fellow passengers; nonetheless, like Conrad, Naipaul depicts a “fever”—a frenzy—of African origin as a threat to enlightened Europeans. And Naipaul’s fever is contagious: one needs
only to touch Africa’s darkness to catch it. Naipaul may see himself as a light-bringer, but for critics like Said (and presumably for Achebe), his implicit assumption that “the aborigines; the New World; the colony; the history; India; the Muslim world…[and] Africa” require Naipaul’s illumination makes Naipaul presumptuous, callous, and perhaps even subtly racist. If nothing else, in casting the nonwestern as dark, Naipaul certainly seems to favor the west: to regard him “as anything other than reflexively pro-West,” Brian May comments, “is to go against a tough grain in recent postcolonial criticism.” This essay goes against that grain. Naipaul’s depictions of nonwestern darkness are not as simple as his parallels to Conrad suggest; they can, in fact, be seen as challenges to the western literary tradition. Although Naipaul writes very much in this tradition, he uses it in a way that subverts it, adopting and modifying conventional western modes, styles, and motifs, then deploying the products in ways that both celebrate the western tradition and highlight its drastic shortcomings. And in Naipaul’s refigurings, Naipaul himself and the west as a whole—not the nonw e st e r n— e nd up distorted. His depiction of the Indian bureaucracy he encounters in “A Little Paperwork,” for instance, reflects the
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bureaucracy of Nikolai Gogol’s 1842 short story “The Overcoat.” In Gogol’s story, the lowly clerk Akaky Akakievich negotiates the bureaucracy of Saint Petersburg in a vain attempt to regain his stolen overcoat, just as Naipaul negotiates the bureaucracy of Bombay in a vain attempt to regain his confiscated liquor. Both bureaucracies are infuriating and unnavigable—but these are characteristics of most bureaucracies, and are alone insufficient to draw a significant line from Gogol to Naipaul. Other similarities help to draw this line more clearly. First, the strict system of occupational roles in Naipaul’s Bombay—in which an individual’s caste dictates what he can and cannot do, in all sectors of life—recalls a similar system in Gogol’s Petersburg. Second, Gogol’s bureaucracy is permeated with paper: his protagonist is a copyist; Naipaul’s bureaucracy references and develops this permeation by making paper an element of bureaucratic oppression. Finally, the embodiment of bureaucracy in Gogol, an “important person” who dashes Akaky Akakievich’s final hopes of recovering his overcoat, reappears in Naipaul—but in a radically different context. . Whether or not Naipaul’s allusions to Gogol are intentional on Naipaul’s part is largely irrelevant to this essay, which seeks to show that reading Naipaul alongside Gogol demonstrates that Naipaul’s illumination of Indian darkness is equally an illumination of the darkness that allows the west—allows Naipaul—to misunderstand India.
ogol occupies a complex niche in the western canon. He can be seen as a father of the western short story, a precursor to modernism, and even a starting point for postmodernism. In entering into dialogue with Gogol, Naipaul engages with the west. He mimics Gogol’s satire, but he also expands on it in a way that indicts both himself and the west. He illuminates India, but in doing so, he also illuminates his western prejudice, thus providing something of an answer to charges from critics like Said. For Naipaul, the discovery is not only of India itself, but of his own complex relationship to India and the west. One could object that in borrowing from the western canon to depict a bureaucratic Bombay, Naipaul idealizes the west and degrades India. From this perspective, Naipaul’s appropriations from
Gogol buttress Said’s case, suggesting that Naipaul believes the nonwestern can be depicted only through the use of western models. One could also object that Naipaul is presumptuous in using India to make a point about the western psyche—as though for Naipaul, India were valuable only as a subservient element of an argument about the west. Such a protest would be in the vein of one of Achebe’s objections to Heart of Darkness, which maintains that Conrad displays a “perverse arrogance” in using Africa as the backdrop for “the breakup of one petty European mind.” These objections would be misguided, for two reasons. First, the aspects of the west that Naipaul borrows are not exactly worthy of idealization—stifling bureaucracies are nothing to brag about—which is why “The Overcoat” is usually seen as a satire of western bureaucracy, not as a glorification of it. Second, if Naipaul exalts the west, this exaltation comes alongside an indictment of western complicity in the construction of the nonwestern: Naipaul amplifies Gogol’s satire, turning Gogol’s social order on its head to chastise the west for its flawed conceptions of India. To see Naipaul as simply impugning India is to ignore the complexity of his perceptions and his project. “A Little Paperwork” and “The Overcoat” share much textually, especially with respect to their depictions of bureaucracy. But Naipaul borrows from western giants other than Gogol, too; “A Little Paperwork” engages with Franz Kafka’s 1925 novel The Trial, for instance, perhaps more intensely than it engages with “The Overcoat.” Why compare Naipaul to Gogol and not to Kafka? Simply put, accounting for differences of temporal and national context, Naipaul and Gogol share almost as much as their fictions. Particularly, they share a complicated and conflicted orientation to the west. In Gogol’s case, this conflict is partially a product of his location in the Russian literary tradition, which straddles an unstable line between occident and orient. But Gogol is more torn than most Russian writers. Like Naipaul, his background is a patchwork of ethnicities, cultures and nationalities. Gogol was born in 1809 to a noble family in a Ukrainian-dominated segment of Ruthenia, a culturally diverse Eastern European territory now geographically
divided among Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Slovakia and Poland. His childhood was spent “in [a] mixed surrounding of local small-time nobility and everyday village life”; his family was Ukrainian, but it also professed ties to both Russia and Poland. For whatever reason, Gogol declared his connection to Poland “artificial” and looked instead to Russia, writing in Russian as opposed to his native Ukrainian and moving to Saint Petersburg in 1828. While in Russia, he retained ties to the Ukraine, seeking a university appointment there and even undertaking to write a history of his “Little Russia,” but he resisted allegiance to any nation: “I do not know,” he wrote to his friend A.O. Smirnova in December 1844, “whether my soul is Ukrainian or Russian.” Despite Gogol’s resistance to national definition, he was seen in Ukrainian literary circles as a symbol of the Russian empire during the country’s “post-colonial rebirth” in the early 1900s, in the course of which the Ukraine won independence from Russia in 1917—only to lose it, to the Soviet Union, in 1922. But Gogol was soon in vogue throughout the Soviet Union as one of a group of suppressed Soviet writers who enjoyed a propagandistic but sincere revival at the beginning of the Cold War. (By “propagandistic but sincere,” I mean that though Gogol’s work was revived largely to serve as a source of allegories that could be used to glorify the Soviet Union, Soviet leaders and critics did not, by and large, misrepresent his work, either maliciously or unintentionally—they merely simplified it to serve as propaganda.) At a state celebration of Gogol in 1952, V. V. Erlimov deemed Gogol “a great ally in the struggle to oppose ...darkness.” Gogol—a writer with a complex heritage who writes in the language of empire and fights darkness—sounds a lot like a Slavic 19th-century V. S. Naipaul. There are of course major differences: Naipaul’s empire is British and Gogol’s is Russian; Naipaul writes after colonialism and Gogol writes at its height; Naipaul conceptualizes his own project as an “illumination of darkness,” whereas in Gogol’s case, that conception is critically imposed. Despite these differences, Gogol nonetheless struggles with the same issues of hybridity and divided allegiance that characterize Naipaul’s work, Naipaul’s life, and contemporary postcolonial discussions in general. Comparing Naipaul
to Kafka would be useful to contextualize Naipaul’s view of bureaucracy. But to see how Naipaul’s bureaucracy can contribute to an indictment of the west, Gogol serves us better: Gogol is both a giant of western literature for Naipaul to expand upon and subvert and a kindred spirit for him to echo and commune with. He is, in short, an especially enlightening counterpoint for comparison with Naipaul, both textually and biographically. In “The Overcoat,” Akaky Akakievich is caught in a bureaucratic machine similar to the one that ensnares Naipaul in “A Little Paperwork.” When Akaky Akakievich’s overcoat is stolen, he must navigate an arduous network of “departments, regiments, offices” and “officialdom.” A policeman witnesses the crime, claims ignorance, and sends him to an inspector; but the inspector seems more likely to cheat him than to help him. “Early [the next] morning” Akaky Akakievich seeks help from “the superintendent,” “but [is] told that he [is] asleep; [Akaky Akakievich] c[omes] at ten and again [is] told: asleep; he c[omes] at eleven o’clock and [is] told that the superintendent [is] not at home,” and “at lunchtime” he is flatly refused entry. When Akaky Akakievich finally gains an audience, “the superintendent t[akes] the story about the theft of the overcoat somehow extremely strangely” and Akaky Akakievich leaves “not knowing whether the case of his overcoat [will] take its proper course or not.” Naipaul must negotiate a similar system—a seemingly endless maze of contradictory officials and superfluous permits—in an attempt to regain his liquor. The following passage is representative of his trials: The officer who had sent me on the track of the transport permit was pleased to see me back. But the transport permit wasn’t enough. I had to go to Mr Kulkarni to find out about the warehouse charges. When I had settled what the charges were I was to come back to the clerk over there, with the blue shirt; then I had to go to the cashier, to pay the warehouse charges; then I had to go back to Mr Kulkarni to get my bottles. I couldn’t find Mr Kulkarni. Cumbersome bureaucracies thwart both Akaky Akakievich and Naipaul.
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These bureaucracies share much with one another aside from simply being bureaucracies. Both, though confounding, are strictly ordered: Gogol’s by ranks of the Russian civil service and Naipaul’s by the caste system. The narrator of “The Overcoat” declares that “rank must be announced first of all,” then gives us Akaky Akakievich’s rank as “eternal titular councillor.” With this eternal rank, Akaky Akakievich works as a “copying clerk” in a system in which “everything go[es] in the strictest order”; he is “always to be seen in one and the same place, in the same position, in the same capacity.” The bureaucrats in Naipaul’s Bombay are similarly mired in their roles. This is illustrated when Naipaul’s companion faints in a customs office, and Naipaul asks a clerk for water to help relieve her. Neither the clerk nor her supervisor moves to retrieve water, instead advising Naipaul to “[l]et her rest.” Naipaul shouts “Water!” at a third clerk, who leaves the room and returns “waterless.” When Naipaul asks him where the water is, “[h]is eyes distastefully acknowledge [Naipaul’s] impatience,” he “neither shrug[s] nor speak[s],” and “presently” “a messenger appear[s],” “carr[ying] a tray” on which “st[ands] a glass of water.” Naipaul chides himself: “I should have known,” he says, “[a] clerk [is] a clerk; a messenger [is] a messenger.” In Gogol’s Petersburg and Naipaul’s Bombay, individuals have set roles in strict, hierarchical systems. But far from feeling trapped by these roles, Gogol and Naipaul’s clerks take pleasure in them and refuse to deviate from them. Gogol’s narrator tells us that “[i]t would hardly be possible to find a man who lived so much in his work” as Akaky Akakievich; “he serve[s] with love,” “[d]elight,” and “zeal.” When a director “order[s] that he be given something more important than the usual copying”—“changing the heading and changing some verbs” in “an already existing document”—“[t]his [is] such a task for him that he g[ets] all in a sweat, rub[s] his forehead, and finally sa[ys], ‘No, better let me copy something.’” Naipaul’s clerks are similarly dedicated to their prescribed work and reluctant to stray from it. They care for papers and folders with “reveren[ce],” and they decline Naipaul’s perfunctory thanks for doing what they see as their privilege. Naipaul even describes one clerk who “after many years” on the job must “subdu[e]” his
“excitement” at continually “discovering the richness and variety of his work.” And later in An Area of Darkness, Naipaul describes Ramnath, a “happy” “clerk in a government department” who serves as a stenographer, or “steno.” When Ramnath’s supervisor demands that he begin typing in addition to dictating, he respectfully declines—typing “is not [the] job” of “a steno.” Gogol and Naipaul’s clerks are confined in prescribed roles, but they revel in their confinement. In addition to similarities with respect to ranks and roles, Gogol and Naipaul’s bureaucracies share a preoccupation with paper. Gogol’s entire system—from the devoted copyist Akaky Akakievich to the forces that thwart him—is linked to paper. When Akaky Akakievich seeks the help of the superintendent in locating his overcoat, it is the superintendent’s scriveners, rather than general clerks, who attempt to send him away. Naipaul’s system is also suffused with paper. Naipaul must negotiate “badly printed illiterate forms” which the customs clerks fill in with a “blunt, indelible, illegible pencil which government offices throughout the former Empire use, less for the sake of what is written than for the sake of the copies required.” These government offices are saturated with paper—it is “in the hands of clerks,” and “in the hands of khaki-clad messengers”; it is “shaggily staked” “on desks,” “on chairs,” and “on shelves rising to the…ceiling.” Clerks exist “scattered” among “mounds and columns and buttresses of paper,” “camouflage[d]” by it. In Naipaul as in Gogol, paper pervades the bureaucratic system.
ogol and Naipaul’s depictions of bureaucracy share much, but major a difference between their protagonists points toward Naipaul’s subversiveness. Gogol’s protagonist, Akaky Akakievich, is both an element and a victim of “all [the] officialdom”; he—like those who turn him away from the superintendent’s office—is a scrivener. Naipaul’s protagonist is Naipaul himself, and he seems, unlike Akaky Akakievich, to have no part in constituting the bureaucracy that frustrates him. But by alluding to Gogol, Naipaul implicates himself in the bureaucracy by placing himself at its highest levels; then he undercuts both himself and the west. The important person is an embodiment of Gogol’s “irascible...
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officialdom.” When Akaky Akakievich’s efforts with the superintendent fail, he is advised by one of his fellow clerks that “the best thing would be to address a certain important person,” who “by writing and referring to the proper quarters, could get things done more successfully.” This course of action proves more calamitous than previous ones. Much like the police, the inspectors, and the superintendent, the important person impedes Akaky Akakievich, cruelly detaining him “in order to show” a visiting friend “what lengths of time clerks spent waiting in his anteroom.” When he finally admits Akaky Akakievich, he chides him for breaking rank, telling him that he “ought to have filed a petition about it in the chancellery,” which “would pass to the chief clerk,” then “to the section chief, then be conveyed to [his] secretary,” and finally would come to the important person himself. To emphasize his displeasure and his authority, the important person “stamp[s] his foot” and “raise[s] his voice to...a forceful note.” Akaky Akakievich is so “stricken” with fright that he collapses; and after a trying trek home, he takes to his bed and dies. The dead Akaky Akakievich haunts the important person, leaving him “pale, frightened, and minus his overcoat”; but the important person is ultimately permitted to return home safely. Gogol’s important person is the most powerful manifestation of the bureaucracy that oppresses Akaky Akakievich. An important person appears in “A Little Paperwork,” too, but not as a manifestation of bureaucracy: Naipaul himself is described as a “person of importance” by a customs clerk (16). Gogol disrupts the social order he presents by allowing Akaky Akakievich to steal the important person’s overcoat; Naipaul goes further, making the important person a victim of bureaucracy. Gogol’s important person, though disrobed, remains in control of the system; Naipaul’s person of importance—Naipaul himself—is trapped within it. Naipaul is both victim and perpetrator; he suffers under bureaucracy even as he helps to perpetuate it. After leaving the customs office and retiring to a friend’s flat, he tells an acquaintance that his companion fainted at the customs office, “[p]erhaps” from “the heat”—his way, he indicates, of veiling his frustration and trying not “to sound critical.”
The acquaintance recognizes his obfuscation and calls him on it: “It isn’t the heat at all. It’s always the heat or the water with you people from outside. There’s nothing wrong with her. You make up your minds about India before coming to the country.” Not only is Naipaul wrong about what ails his companion, he is wrong in a telling way. What ails her—be it heat or bureaucracy, be it in reality or in Naipaul’s fib—is of Naipaul’s own construction. Naipaul’s companion is overheated by the customs house because he expects she will be. Naipaul encounters a bureaucratic nightmare in India because from the moment the “quarantine flag c[omes] down” on his ship in the Bombay Port, he expects to encounter one—indeed, the first Indian Naipaul mentions is a guide “sent by the travel agency to help” him navigate “the customs.” Naipaul helps birth the Bombay bureaucracy through his biased preconceptions of India. And the target of the acquaintance’s charge is larger than Naipaul alone: his criticism of “you people from the outside” sounds very much like an indictment of touristy westerners. Perhaps things could be different, the acquaintance suggests; but not so long as “you people” continue in ignorance of India, not so long as “you” continue “reading the wrong books.” Naipaul the character may be reading the wrong books, but Naipaul the author is writing the right ones. In Naipaul’s conversation with his acquaintance, we can see what Robert D. Hamner calls Naipaul’s “humiliating” “philosophical detachment”: Naipaul simultaneously bares his own prejudice and impeaches himself for it. An Area of Darkness has been criticized for distorting the realities of India. But it has also been praised for the exact opposite, for “bring[ing] the essence of a social situation so vividly to life” that Ashish Roy wonders “whether all the sociologists, anthropologists and political scientists” “have not labored in vain.” Naipaul may or may not distort India, but in his detachment, he does give us a distortion of himself. As Bruce Bawer puts it, Naipaul must acknowledge the complexity of his experiences—he must “notice and remember…the[ir] ambiguities”; he must represent “the whole human person rather than to reduce him… to a one-dimensional symbol.” Naipaul must give us a version of himself that appears contradictory and distorted; anything else would be overly
and falsely simple. Naipaul recognizes his prejudice, the west’s prejudice; and he illustrates bias—personal and cultural, his own and the west’s—without offering easy solutions. Said calls Naipaul “a witness for the Western prosecution” (53). Naipaul is a witness. Like a good witness, Naipaul, in Bawer’s words, recounts “testimony”— his own or that of others—“and states his conclusions without regard to whether they square with anyone’s ideology” (379). If Naipaul is a witness for the west, he is equally a witness against it; for in illuminating the darkness of India, he illuminates the western darkness within himself. Gogol had ambitions for himself as a witness of a sort: he badly wanted to be a historian. As he wrote to his Ukrainian friend M.A. Maksimovic in November 1833, history was his way of saying to the Russian and European worlds “what before [him had] not been said” about the plight of his “unique poor Ukraine.” History, in other words, was Gogol’s way of illuminating Ukrainian darkness. And like Naipaul, he was not about to stop with his ancestral homeland. In addition to his history of the Ukraine, Gogol had plans for a history of the Middle Ages, “in eight or, perhaps, nine volumes”; and for “a universal history,” which
would fill “four large or six small volumes.” Gogol’s ambitions amounted to only one publication, an introduc-tory article “in the April, 1834, issue of the Journal of the Ministry of Pubic Instruction” entitled “‘Excerpt from a History of Little Russia. Volume I. Book I. Chapter I..’” Gogol produced no further historical volumes, books or chapters, on the Ukraine or any other subject. Fortunately, Naipaul has been more prolific. Gogol, one thinks, would be pleased with Naipaul’s controversial success. In December 1833, while hard at work on his history of the Ukraine, Gogol wrote to his friend M.P. Pogodin: “My history of Little Russia is extremely unrestrained, and how should it be otherwise? I am criticized…that it is unhistorically fiery and vivid; but what sort of history is it if it is boring?” Naipaul’s illuminations of nonwestern darkness may be too vivid for some, but they are anything but boring. Naipaul’s intricate light is blistering, but it is also indiscriminate—the nonwestern, the west, and Naipaul himself are all left scorched. L
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The Magician for Elata
In a hotel room in Singapore, you were fifteen. No adults. You fell asleep in your blue tankini pink flowers on the edges,
the TV on. When you woke up your cousin was touching you. I know what that is like: how small you get and don’t say anything, too small to say anything, self a hard white stone the size of a fingernail and the body not yours, useless, sending shudders through you when you’re touched or not touched, for years afterward. It went on for an hour while you pretended to sleep. You wished instead someone you love had died because there could be light in that, and redemption. When you came back your hair was dyed blue but I didn’t see you until it was brittle, yellow-brown. After it happens, you expect everything to be witness to that moment, everything that comes after. Surprisingly
it is not. Except the train passing relentless against the tracks, a way out. Now autumn is over, the leaves brittle on the ground. I donâ€™t see you much these days. Every two weeks or so the train shuts down, tracks studded with white signs: There is Help, 1-800-SUICIDE. There are pictures of you from Singapore, fashion shots in blue silk and crimson, your stomach hollowed out from the hipbones. Back then I thought you looked better that way. I have a tarot card under my pillow, The Magician: infinity sign above his head like two empty plates with the bottoms punched out. When I try to think of you in Singapore I think about him instead, smiling like beatification, behind him everything yellow like eyes in the dark. After that year you and I didnâ€™t talk for months. We found boyfriends whose fathers beat them, we were drawn to their rough fingers,
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to the resourceful boys hiding there ready to run. Comparing ourselves to them, we were ashamed for each other. When you try to think of yourself in Singapore you remember this instead: when you were a kid, in the train station bathroom were squares of toilet paper so small once your finger came out with a flake of shit on it, delicate as a gold-plated leaf. In junior high everyone hated you, told stories in which you jerked off on the library table. The thing is, sometimes the thought occurs that it all makes sense. Being touched, you thought: I had so much want men could sense it across rooms and countries, so they brought me here and this happened to me. Right now I am betraying you: having believed this about myself before, I believed it about you then, and sometimes I still do. â€”SHAMALA GALLAGHER
STAY OUT OF THE WAY
NO MATTER WHAT DON’T MAKE A SCENE
BY MEGHAN DANIELS
32 RYAN LELAND QUARTERLY WINTER 2007 MAE
When Daniel walks with his mother into the Townson’s house, through the bright red door, his mother tells him to go downstairs. She calls out, “Hello, Mrs. Townson, are you home?” And Mrs. Townson shouts back from somewhere in another room, “Yes, I’m here, I’m here, thank you for coming, the house is such a mess!” Downstairs is around the corner and through a white door. When Daniel gets to the door, he turns the knob and grabs onto the wooden railings on either side of him. He wraps his small fingers tight around them, bends his skinny knees, and jumps. He jumps three stairs at a time, sometimes four, but he’s got to be careful because the blue carpet is thick with moplike strands, and if he falls, it will hurt, and tomorrow he will have red splotches on his knobby knees, a rose garden like the kind the other kids on the bus give each other by scratching their nails up and down their arms. Upstairs in the Townson house, there are fancy fake flowers in shiny blue vases, there are bright splattering paintings on the walls, and there are hard red couches that look like thrones. Daniel does not really ever stay upstairs though, which is fine with him because downstairs is what he likes. Downstairs there is the air-hockey table like in the commercials. And even though Daniel doesn’t have anybody to play with, it’s okay, because he is small and quick and he can dash back and forth, slamming the puck across the table and listening to it crash against the side, like a metal shovel pinging h a r d against a silver
trash can on the street. Downstairs, too, there is a silver TV that is bigger than a refrigerator, bigger almost than Daniel’s whole kitchen. And there is a piano, and when Daniel gets bored with watching Spongebob or Storm Stories (on the Weather Channel, with all the tornadoes ripping through the houses), he sometimes likes to bang on the piano with the palms of his hands. But Daniel does not let his hands hit the keys too hard because then the whirr of the vacuum upstairs would not drown out the sound, and on the car ride home his mother would not yell, but she would ask him quietly in that tired voice, the hot-air freeway breeze blowing in from the half-open windows, “Daniel, what were you doing? You know I need this cleaning job. Do you want me to lose my job, Daniel?” She would sigh, and Daniel, shamefaced, would shake his head and slide his hands underneath his knees, feeling the stick of leg-sweat on his knuckles and the fuzz of maroon upholstery on his palms. So when Daniel plays the piano downstairs he brings his hands up tall and strong and swings them down hard—but right before he hits the keys he stops. His hands dangle in mid-air; his knees are bent; feet planted on the carpet. Instead of slamming his palms against the black and white keys, he reaches down with one finger and plucks out a note, and the sound is high-pitched and alone. Today though, when Daniel goes downstairs, he suddenly sees that there is a boy there. The boy is there alone. The boy is wearing a still-wet blue Spiderman bathing suit and no shirt, and he is sitting on the glass cover of the coffee table in front of the brown leather couch, his legs bent to the side as though he’d just discarded them there. He is slurping some iced tea and watching Power Rangers. The Pink Ranger is on the screen and she is bigger, realer looking, than Daniel himself. Daniel likes Power Rangers, and the Yellow Ranger is his favorite, but he wonders what his mother would want him to do. This is only his third Saturday coming to work with his mother, and the first rule of working is to Stay Out of The Way and No Matter What Don’t
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Make a Scene. But usually the boy is out of doors, on the trampoline, in the sun, with his friends, shooting water guns, or else he is having his tennis lesson at the court down the road. Usually he is not here downstairs with Daniel. Daniel and the boy sometimes see each other in the hallways at school but they do not say hello. The boy is one year older than Daniel, his name is Robert (ROBERT, Daniel always hears Mrs. Townson calling out of the sliding glass door, HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU! ONE AT A TIME ON THE TRAMPOLINE) and he is in third grade. Sometimes when Robert is outside with his third-grade friends and it is hot and they are spraying each other with their green and orange Super Soakers, Daniel wishes he could go out there and boing on the trampoline and run and yell GOTCHA, ROBERT, SURRENDER, but instead he just dashes back and forth downstairs on the thick blue carpet, slamming the air hockey puck across the table with the TV going on in the background. Now when Daniel sees the boy sitting on the coffee table with his messed up wet hair, they just look at each other. The boy says “hi” and then keeps on watching the show. Rita Repulsa has trapped the Blue Ranger on top of some high scraggly rocks and the Yellow Ranger is trying to get him down. Daniel does not know what to do about the boy, so he just says “hi” back and stands there wide-eyed, leaning against one of the big poles that hold up the downstairs from falling, and he watches the show with the boy. He glances at Robert a couple of times, but Robert is just watching the TV, and now he is pulling a container of Bubble Tape gum out of his pocket, taking out the last part of the gum and stuffing it in his mouth. Daniel wonders if Robert went in the pool with the Bubble Tape in his swimsuit pocket. It is true that Bubble Tape does have that thick pink plastic protector case that could be waterproof, but Daniel does not know. He has only been swimming twice in his life. When the show ends, Robert gets up and jumps off the table, leaving behind some drips of water and the empty Bubble Tape case. He doesn’t turn off the TV, just says “See ya” to Daniel, who listens as Robert’s feet clomp up the stairs. Daniel can hear Robert upstairs yelling MOM I’M HUNGRY, MOM WHERE ARE YOU,
and Mrs. Townson calling back, ROBERT HONEY, I’M RIGHT HERE, DON’T YELL ACROSS THE HOUSE, THERE ARE BLUEBERRIES IN THE FRIDGE. Daniel wipes the drips of water off the coffee table with the sleeve of his black sweatshirt and then puts the empty Bubble Tape container in his shorts pocket to use for collecting pennies. He sits down crosslegged on the coffee table where Robert was and watches another Power Rangers episode. After the Red Ranger defeats the Hidiacs, Daniel plays six games of air hockey in a row and scores a total of thirtyseven goals. He half-bangs on the piano for a few minutes, but it is too boring. Next, he watches an episode of The Fairly Odd Parents and then one of Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius. At this point, Daniel’s eyes are droopy, and the TV voices are trapped inside his head like children in a crowded school bus. Finally Daniel’s mom calls down to him, “Daniel, time to go!” Daniel gets up from the brown leather couch and smoothes the indentation he has made on the surface. He picks up a purple pillow from the floor, putting it back neatly on the couch. The second rule of coming to work is Leave Everything as You Found It If Not Better No Matter What. After taking one last look around him, Daniel runs to the stairs, slamming the blue mallet against the puck as he passes the air-hockey table. Mrs. Townson calls goodbye to Daniel—“Goodbye, Daniel honey, so good to see you again!” as they leave. Mrs. Townson is taller than his mother, with short brown hair and bright red lips. She has been doing her exercises upstairs, and she has on silver and orange Nike sneakers and a baggy white t-shirt that is clear with sweat. Daniel’s mother’s long blond hair looks frazzled. She is carrying a black trash bag over her shoulder, and Daniel knows that inside it are clothes, probably old t-shirts of Mr. and Mrs. Townson and maybe Robert, too. Daniel hopes not. He does not want to have to wear Robert’s shirts to school. Daniel opens the red front door for his mother and they walk down the cobbled walkway together, past the beautiful yellow and pink flowers, past the Mexican gardener who is wearing a red baseball hat and who is leaned over, planting. The name of the Townson’s neighborhood is The Highlands, but outside there are no hills and all the
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houses are the same but with different color paint. Daniel’s mother says, “I hate people,” as they walk, and Daniel nods yes. “And I hate that woman,” she says, wringing her hands, and Daniel nods again, although he does not hate Mrs. Townson, although in fact he has sometimes wished that Mrs. Townson were his mother. The third rule of coming to work with his mother is a rule that Daniel’s mother has never actually told Daniel, but one which he has come to figure out. It is called Nod No Matter What Even If You Do Not Like Or Understand What I Am Saying. Daniel takes off his sweatshirt as they walk to the car. It is hot out, and there are no clouds in the sky. Daniel’s mother’s blue car is parked behind Mrs. Townson’s shiny black SUV. There is a TV inside Mrs. Townson’s car and Daniel can see it, gleaming, through the back windshield. Daniel’s mother unlocks the driver’s side door of the car and then gets in, throwing the black trash bag into the backseat and reaching over to pop up the lock on Daniel’s door. He climbs in and buckles his seatbelt. The air in the car is sweaty and thick, and as his mother shifts the gear and the car heaves to a start, Daniel feels as though he is popcorn in the microwave. Daniel rolls down his window and for the fifteenminute drive home he counts how many convertibles they pass. The final number is thirteen.
aniel and his mother live on a side street on the edge of downtown, in a faded yellow apartment building behind Mama’s Pizzeria. The smell of pizza floats in through their door all the time and Daniel goes to sleep each night smelling cheese and listening to the squeals of the delivery boy’s car speeding in and out of the driveway. In the apartment next door lives Angela. Angela does not speak English very well, and she has crinkled-looking eyes with a yellowy color in their middles. Angela also has a husband, Miguel, with a thick black mustache underlining his nose. The night before Daniel’s father left for good (when Daniel was still seven) he stumbled in late at night calling out Miguel Miguel hola Miguel won’t you sing me a salsa in a girl-like voice. Daniel heard him climb the stairs and fumble with the double lock on their apartment door and then Daniel heard
the door swing open and bang against the wall and he heard his mother rushing into the hallway, her voice quiet, still clumsy with sleep, Be quiet Everett don’t you know you can’t dance a salsa? And Daniel’s father started laughing those stupid Mexicans will sing whatever the fuck I want them to sing, fucking wetbacks taking everything, fucking Miguel and his stupid salsas. Daniel’s father began to hum “La Bamba,” and Daniel heard his footsteps again and his mother crying out Everett stop you’ll wake up Daniel her voice breaking a bit, their footsteps scrambling on the floor, they must have been dancing, there was a bang—Daniel took his pillow and wrapped it tight around his head, repeating the Pledge of Allegiance over and over to himself inside his head—I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands one nation under God invisible with liberty and justice for all I pledge allegiance to the flag one nation under God I pledge allegiance— And the next day Daniel’s father was gone. His mother, red-eyed and slouching, told him in the kitchen the next morning that his father had lost his job and that he was going to be somewhere else for a while, until he found something new nearby. “We’ll be okay,” his mother said firmly to Daniel as she put two Eggo waffles into the toaster. She was not looking at him, but Daniel nodded and then poured too much syrup on his plate. He did not feel particularly happy, but if his mother had been smiling he would have been ready to whoop like Tarzan with joy. Daniel’s father always came home late while Daniel huddled under his covers I pledge allegiance to the flag, and in the morning his father would say to Daniel Bring me some milk, okay buddy? Except he didn’t say it like they were buddies, not at all.
hen Daniel and his mother get home from the Townson’s house Daniel asks for permission to play outside. Daniel’s mother says that it is fine as long as he stays nearby. Daniel’s mother is rubbing the space between her eyes like she always does after she comes home from work, like there is a lump of clay inside her skin that she can’t seem to flatten out. In the back of Daniel’s apartment building there is a fenced-in area with some grass, but mostly dirt. Inside the fence there is a red and blue kiddy playground set which is just a little bit taller than Daniel, and there are some old rusted folding chairs that Daniel
WALKING THROUGH WHITE PLAZA ON A FRIDAY EVENING Proofs of time machine folded under his arm The balding promless man wanders through hushed tiptoe on the jagged shards of calculus and will she go out with me now? Students for a Better Tomorrow pack away wood and voices hoarse from spreading the unblindness Laughter swelling the horizon with pictures of the dying packs Come to our party beg the blue pink green and yellow flyers winking tempting some and the chosen with the promise of love joy and forgetfulness or at least sex in the beer strewn stables And I see manwoman embraced The clock dies breakup makeup hookup catchup shutup And the machinery of the purple heavens creaks into sluggish icicles for one still moment A girl runs past Panting from the sweat of fitting in those jeans she didnothavetobuy and the effortless beauty of some short skirts
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THE ORIGIN OF TONGUE i am raw tomato skin thin ripe over ripe mute leaving but i won’t leave the pills and i’m taking the broken glass babies on my back your words mean nothing because you know what you mean. —M. SUTHERLAND
36 RYAN LELAND QUARTERLY WINTER 2007 MAE
found propped up by the dumpster one day when he was seven and a half. There is also an old wooden sandbox. There is hardly any sand left in the sandbox, but there is a whole nest of bees. Daniel climbs up on the red and blue playground for a minute and sits there on the top swinging his legs. The empty Bubble Tape container from the Townson’s house is still in his pocket. Daniel takes it out and drops it down through the roof of the playground. It falls perfectly into a little crevice filled with dirty rainwater. Daniel counts to one hundred, One tyrannosaurus rex, two tyrannosaurus rex, three tyrannosaurus rex, and hops down from the roof. He grabs the pink container from the water. Wiping his hands on his shorts, he opens it to see if any water has managed to sneak in. There are a few drops inside, and there is also a piece of paper folded to the size of a fingernail. When Daniel unfolds it he sees a president staring back at him. It is a fifty-dollar bill, and Daniel is so surprised he drops it. The money flutters to the ground. Daniel wonders how so much money could get there, into that container. He wonders if Robert knew that it was there. He wonders if he knows that it is gone. As Daniel reaches down to pick up the money from the ground, his fingers brush the dusty dirt and he wonders whether a fiftydollar bill is enough for an air hockey table. But then he remembers that an air hockey table would probably not fit in his apartment and thinks that maybe it would be best to buy a new TV. The one that they have now is small, with a fuzzy screen. Daniel also wonders whether he should tell his mother about the money, or whether maybe he should just keep it as a surprise. Maybe she would make him give it back. Anyway, why would Robert just leave the container on the coffee table without even picking it up when he left? He probably doesn’t even know about the money, because maybe his container of Bubble Tape was the winner of one of the big prizes like Daniel always sees on TV, and in that case if Daniel hadn’t picked it up the money would have been thrown out in the trash and no one would be able to keep it. And so it is better that Daniel found it—there are so many things he wants, and there is almost nothing in the world that Robert needs. Daniel folds the bill back up carefully, bit by bit, until it is the size of a fingernail
again. After wiping off the water from the inside of the Bubble Tape container with the sleeve of his sweatshirt, he sticks the money back inside. He shoves the container into his left shorts pocket and walks quickly up the stairs to his apartment. His feet are light and skipping. When Daniel gets inside, his mother is sitting at the table still, kneading her forehead with her knuckles again. Her hair is piled up on the top of her head. She looks up when Daniel bursts in through the door, his eyes bright with the possibility of his very own TV. “Daniel,” his mother says, “Mrs. Townson called, you haven’t seen a candy container with money in it, have you? Robert lost it, it was his birthday money and they can’t find it and they called and said the last place he saw it was downstairs.” Daniel hesitates for just a second and his mother does not notice. Then he shakes his head vigorously. “No I didn’t. I haven’t seen it.” His eyes dart around and he puts his left hand over his pocket like a shield. “That’s what I told her.” His mother pauses. “Who puts money in a gum container anyway?” She sighs and her head drops into her hands. “Goddammit,” she says as she gets up, stretching her arm to take down a pot from the cupboard above the fridge. As she lifts it down, the pot’s metal lid slides off, clangs sideways onto the yellow-white linoleum. Daniel’s mom does not pick it up. “Will you get that?” she asks Daniel instead, exhaling loudly as she fills the pot with water. With his right hand Daniel picks up the lid and places it on the counter. His mom is looking for something, probably a beer, in the fridge. When his father lived with them, Daniel’s mother bought three big boxes of beer every week. Now, though, she does not buy the beer in boxes, she just buys the kind that comes in packs of six like soda. But she will not buy Daniel soda, only juice. Daniel thinks now that maybe he will buy himself some soda with his fifty-dollar bill. After Daniel picks up the lid he shuffles quickly to his room, trying not to skip. “Dinner will be ready soon,” his mother calls after him. “Macaroni and cheese.” Daniel closes the door and sits down on his navy blue comforter. He fingers the Bubble Tape container in his pocket, thinking about the mall and all the stores, about the glowing TV screen and the downstairs of the Townson house, how clean and nice it is. He stares
for a while at the small poster on his wall that he won from the town carnival last summer. It is a picture of a tiger cub hanging barely from a tree, clinging with one claw. The cub has a scared but funny look on his face—his eyes are big and googly and his head is tilted at the camera. Underneath the picture there used to be the words OH, SHIT! in big black letters, but when his mother saw the poster she muttered, “No way, absolutely not, my son will not have a poster like that in his room.” And then, louder, to Daniel, “Do you know how INAPPROPRIATE that is?” Daniel shook his head and then said, “Please, Mom?” “Absolutely NOT,” she said with her hands on her hips and her elbows pointing out like triangles. Daniel’s father, who was sitting spread-legged on the couch, guffawed and took another sip of beer. And so Daniel, who did not have any other posters in his room, took a pair of pink-handled kid scissors and cut carefully around the words OH SHIT! before hanging the poster back up on his wall. Now as Daniel looks at the poster he wonders how he will buy the TV without his mother knowing about it. He will have to put it in the closet, he decides, and then keep the door shut all the time. He will only be able to watch it when she is not home. But she does not leave him home alone. He wonders then, suddenly, if Mrs. Townson will call the police if they find out that the money is missing, if the police will bring in dogs and figure out that Daniel stole the money, that Daniel is the thief. “It was an accident,” Daniel imagines himself saying, and he can see the police shaking their head, forcing him against the wall, into handcuffs, into the backseat of their car, behind the bars. He takes the pink Bubble Tape container out of his pocket and slides it far under his mattress.
t dinner, Daniel’s mother asks him what the best part of his day was. She does this every night at dinner, though Daniel is sure that she does not really want to hear what the answer is. She is still kneading her forehead and she is not really eating, and Daniel knows that if he does not tell her she will sigh loudly and say, “Daniel, didn’t you have fun today, it’s Saturday, you’re a kid, you’re supposed to have fun, what’s wrong with you?”
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“I don’t know what was the best,” Daniel says tonight, pausing. “I guess I scored thirty-seven goals playing air-hockey.” He tries to smile for his mother, but she is not looking at him. He swings his legs under the table, listening to the door. He thinks he hears a knock. The police must be coming. What is he going to say, will his mother help him hide? Daniel swings his legs harder and rubs his forehead. He thinks about his TV, but he can only remember the police shows he sometimes watches. The policemen are so big. They shove men against cars and yell bad words and throw them into jail. “Mom?” Daniel says, the word bursting out of him. His mother does not answer and Daniel wonders if she heard him. He picks up his fork, he looks at his plate, he pushes the orange macaroni to the edges. When she still does not answer, he begins to speak. His voice breaks at first, “I—I found—” but then the words come all at once. It is as if there is a wave rolling out of his mouth; his voice is laced with tears that are not yet there—“I did find the money in the basement—it was an accident I thought it was empty—I found it when I came home, I wanted a TV—or maybe we could use it for groceries?” Daniel pauses, tugs on his tshirt sleeves. “Will you tell them it was a mistake—Mom?” When Daniel brings his head up, his mother’s eyes are finally there. “Goddammit, Daniel,” she says quietly. Her words are hard and pointed and Daniel begins to cry, but he does not make any noise and he does not move. He thinks he should apologize but he does not know how. Daniel gets up then, his shoulders shaking. His mother gets up too, and Daniel hears her chair squeak against the floor. She takes a step towards him, she puts her hand on his shoulder, he is turning him around, and then—she is squeezing him tight to her, her t-shirt feels soft, it has been washed so many times—she has not hugged him in so long. His cheek is pressed against her stomach, his teeth are mashed against his lips. “It was an accident,” he begins to say but he knows now that she already knows. “We have to go back there,” his mother says calmly, still hugging him. “We will tell her, and we will bring it back, and I will lose my job.” Her voice is flat but there is something there that Daniel hears. It is not hope but it is something like hope. It is
that his mother is not lying, and it is that she is doing the best she can. Daniel nods his head against her stomach. “I’m sorry, Mom,” he says. “No,” Daniel’s mother says, after a moment, and her voice is suddenly fierce. “No, here’s the plan, Daniel.” Later that night after Daniel has given his mother the Bubble Tape container he returns to his room and pounds his fist once against the wall. He thinks about his mother’s face—Here’s the plan, Daniel—and he thinks about his father Miguel Miguel sing me a salsa and about Robert, bouncing on the trampoline, soaring high above the swingset, diving headfirst into the pool. Here’s the plan. It is not right, Daniel, but it is okay, you have to do it. I want you to do it for yourself. You deserve a TV—it isn’t fair—you aren’t bad—she was still hugging him, her voice all the sudden soft and quiet. Now, Daniel can hear his mother is in her bedroom, Joni Mitchell is blasting— his mother has not been drinking but she is singing, swaying, banging her dresser drawers open and shut, she is loud like Daniel’s father. Daniel thinks about his bigscreened almost-TV, he thinks about Mrs. Townson’s house and her sweaty shirt, her smiling face. He takes a deep breath and looks at his poster on the wall. The yellow cat is clinging to the thorny branch, wideeyed and clawing, alone on the bare white walls. His mother’s voice again—While I am talking to Mrs. Townson, go into the office. Open the bottom drawer—I have seen Mrs. Townson working, I have seen what is inside. This is okay, Daniel, it is not that big a deal. Then, although he has not yet brushed his teeth, Daniel turns off the light and gets under his covers. He does not want to do what his mother has asked. He likes the Townsons—even though Robert does not play with him, he is not mean. Mrs. Townson is not mean. Daniel wonders if this will make his mother happy. It has been so long since his mother has laughed, laughed for real without that sad empty look swimming in her eyes. Lying in his bed, his body hot under the covers, Daniel rubs his eyelids in circles with his fists until whitesilver kaleidoscopes begin to spiral inside his head. His mother’s voice ricochets in his ears from the other room, loud and offkey—we are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves… back to the gaaaaarden… And the kaleidoscopes dissolve after
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a moment, like steam vanishing into the air, but it is a long time before Daniel falls asleep.
he next day when Mrs. Townson opens the door her red lips are wrinkled tight together. “Come in,” she says to Daniel and his mother. She speaks to them like the woman who works behind the desk at Daniel’s doctor office does. Daniel and his mother step slowly in from the hot sticky outside to the air-conditioned inside. Mrs. Townson does not say anything else. She looks at them, waiting. “I’m sorry,” Daniel says right away. “It was an accident. I wouldn’t, I—I— hereyougo.” He shoves the Bubble Tape container towards Mrs. Townson and she takes it from him slowly. Mrs. Townson does not say anything, she does not say, “Daniel, it’s okay,” or “Daniel, don’t worry, we believe you!” Instead, his mother speaks. “Daniel, why don’t you go downstairs for a moment? I would like to talk to Mrs. Townson alone.” His mother’s voice sounds like Mrs. Townson’s now, that doctor office voice again. Daniel walks around the corner to the white door, but he does not go down the stairs. Instead he pauses for a moment, hand still gripping the doorknob, and listens carefully—“I just don’t see why he would— You have to understand my position here—I trust you, I really do, but—” and slowly tiptoes into the office. He has never been to this room before and his heart is pounding—I pledge allegiance to the flag— The dark wood desk is just where his mother said, in the right-hand corner of the room, by the window. Outside, the sky is blue and bright. Daniel crouches over and slowly, carefully, opens the bottom drawer. The creaking is quiet, barely audible—and for the republic for which I stand one nation—and Daniel pauses for a moment, looking at the inside of the drawer, the pile of papers and scattered pens. Daniel crouches down, peers in closer. A crumpled pink receipt is on the top, but
underneath, just like his mother said, there is an envelope, large and yellow. This is where she keeps the money. She doesn’t even lock it up. Daniel listens for a moment, his mother is talking, her voice is sad and pleading—I don’t want to make excuses, it’s been a hard time for us, with Daniel’s father—Daniel does not want to listen to the rest. He lifts the envelope from the drawer, opens it slowly, one corner at a time. He peers inside. There must be at least twenty bills in there, spread out on the bottom, mostly twenties but with some fifties too. Daniel does not count them, he does not want to take too long, but he is amazed, he could buy anything, they are all crisp and clean and he has never in his life seen this much money—and it is all just floating here in this envelope, in the bottom drawer of Mrs. Townson’s desk. He remembers what his mother said to him—Take one fifty dollar bill, she will not even know it is gone, it is not you stealing, Daniel. I cannot give her that money back. Daniel plucks a bill from the pile, he folds it in half once, twice, three times, four, until it is the size of a fingernail, and then he sticks it deep into his pocket. He closes the envelope, fastens the metal clasp, places the pink receipt on top of it again. He closes the drawer. It does not creak. Daniel feels sorry for Mrs. Townson, who does not know that he is stealing. And it is not fair that his mother has to scrub their toilets, but it is Mrs. Townson’s fault. As Daniel skulks quickly, quietly, from the office, he is thinking that maybe stealing from the Townsons is okay because it will make his mother happy. He tiptoes downstairs, one stair at a time. When he gets there he does not play air-hockey or turn on the TV or bang on the piano, and Robert is not there. Instead Daniel just stands leaning against a pole, listening upstairs for his mother’s voice—but she is not calling him yet, why is she not calling him, what is taking her so long? He is clutching the money inside his pocket, he does not even realize it, and he begins to count inside his head—one tyrannosaurus rex, two tyrannosaurus rex, three tyrannosaurus rex, four tyrannosaurus rex— “Daniel? Could you come up here a minute?” And so Daniel apologizes once again, while Mrs. Townson just stares at him, looking sad and angry all at once. And then finally, they are leaving. Daniel and his mother pass the beautiful flowers, and Daniel puts his hand into his pocket, clutching the money like a shield.
Daniel’s mom climbs inside the car and reaches over to pop up the lock on Daniel’s side. Daniel can see the garbage bag that is still in the backseat of the car, full of the sweatstained clothes of Mr. and Mrs. Townson and maybe Robert. Daniel’s mother turns the key and shifts the gear and the car lurches to a start. Daniel does not roll down his window. His mother drives down the driveway, too slowly, and they pass by the tennis courts where Robert is probably having his lesson. Daniel tells himself to count the convertibles—he sees an ugly yellow one, a dirty white one—he does not want to play this game. His mother turns on the radio, it is a commercial for Barry’s Steakhouse, they have the best beef in town, their service is SUPERB— Daniel slouches back against his seat and reaches to touch the money inside his pocket. He takes it out suddenly, thrusts it toward his mother. “No, you keep it. It’s for you—you did the job,” she says, still staring at the road ahead. She turns onto the highway then, and the other cars are passing them, streaming by—the wind is like a giant hairdryer pointing at their car, rattling and loud. Daniel unfolds the money slowly. His mother’s hands are gripping the wheel. There is a red light, and his mother stops shortly. “But I don’t want it anymore,” Daniel says quietly. His mother laughs suddenly, one sharp ha spitting from her lips, and it is the same laugh as before, empty, not happy. “You deserve to keep the money, Daniel. You did nothing wrong,” she says. The car is hot, and they keep on driving. They pass gas stations and car washes and a Pizza Hut, and now they are driving by neighborhoods. First there are the big houses, well-spaced and far off away from the road, with green grass lawns and swingsets, and now it is the small houses, and they are right near the shoulder of the road, paintchipped and broken, sinking into the dead brown ground. Daniel knows this road. It is the road to Wal-Mart and the mall. There is rap music on the radio. His mother is singing along, making up the words, and her voice is loud and angry-sounding like the rapper’s. Daniel tries to make his head blank, but there is the money in his hand, and all the sudden his father’s voice is inside his head—Bring me some milk, will you, buddy?—and his mother’s voice—Here’s the plan—and the bottom drawer creaking and Robert staring at the TV, glancing back at Daniel. Daniel
sees himself picking up the Bubble Tape container—Leave Everything as You Found It If Not Better No Matter What— and then they are there, in the far end of the parking lot, next to Wal-Mart and the mall. “So what do you say, Daniel? I don’t think you can afford a TV—but how about we find you something extra special, something that you really want?” “Oh—no. No, thank you,” Daniel says, after a moment. His voice comes out small. “I don’t—” he says, and his voice is louder now, whimpering, and he takes a deep breath, starts again, “—please, I don’t want anything, Mom—not today.” He can feel the tears growing hot and thick inside his eyes, readying themselves to fall. There is a silence. “I was just trying to be nice,” his mother says, pulling the key from the ignition, turning to face Daniel. “I thought the money was what you wanted.” Daniel cannot speak all of the sudden, he feels as if his throat is clogged, he can think only of shoving the Bubble Tape container into Mrs. Townson’s hand. I wouldn’t—I—hereyougo. Daniel turns his head towards the window. The car is quiet, the air is hot and still, and Daniel is shaking. He feels his mother’s hand rubbing gently on his shoulder. “Hey,” she says, quietly. “You don’t have to buy anything, okay? I just—I shouldn’t—Okay, Daniel?” She has not asked him anything but Daniel knows that this is her way of saying sorry. Daniel nods but does not turn back from the window, just hands the fifty-dollar bill to his mother. She takes it. Daniel hears the door open then and from the corner of his eye he sees his mother, hunch-shouldered, walk around the front of the car. She opens his door and takes him by the hand, grasps his fingers tightly. “Let’s go get something to eat, okay?” his mother says. It is past lunchtime, but Daniel’s stomach does not feel hungry. There is an IHOP at the edge of the parking lot and Daniel’s mother says, “Well, how do pancakes sound to you?” “Good,” Daniel says. Their waitress brings them two orders of pancakes and smiles at Daniel in a way that makes him feel like climbing under the table or like screaming NO YOU’RE WRONG I’M NOT WHO YOU THINK! But Daniel does not climb under the table and he does not scream. He just sits quietly across from his mother, cutting into his pancakes and drinking his juice. L
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40 RYAN LELAND QUARTERLY WINTER 2007 MAE
AFTER DINNER A voice on the radio projects Clear into the next room, The tiny gaps between words Ring like little spoon taps On a round, glass bottle. All the talk is of the past. â€”BRENDAN SELBY
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CALIFORNIA BY ANNIE WYMAN
ast November I found an interesting .snippet in the Readings section of Harper’s Magazine. It was an excerpt of an essay by a man named Mark Greif, and it was called “Afternoon of the Sex Children.” It was cited as originally appearing in “n+1 Issue Four” about eight months earlier. I read it, and I liked it, until I reached its final line: “The young are beautiful but they are stupid.” Last July I sat in a circle of twenty/ thirty-somethings around Mark Greif and answered a number of his questions—things like “Will you love your children better than your parents love you?”—into a tape recorder. The other interns (a girl from Brown and a boy from Harvard and a girl
from Macalester) and I sat on stacks of boxes. The rest of the circle were mostly New Yorkers: musicians, grad students, artists and writers. They were standing or sitting on tables or monopolizing the two available sofas and most of the pizza. We are here, said Mark, in the tradition of the Surrealists, who came together to assess the present moment in the presence of other artists and intellectuals. Andre Breton, he said, did some very good things. And we, too, who had gathered in the Grand Street office of n+1, were to think about life in medias life. To achieve some kind of transcendence in our talk. What does it mean to us, to be who we are? What does it mean to us, being alive? This is what Greif said he wanted to know. “Afternoon of the Sex Children” takes up a very specific part of that question: sex, obviously—but even more specifically our cultural fascination with prepubescent sex and pubescent sexual icons. Greif says most of what we desire is cousin to what
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disgusts us, as is most of what we do to ourselves, alone and with each other. We believe that what we really want is eternal youth and that boundless kiddy sex will make us happy. These are depressing ideas but not entirely new ones. Greif examines the overwhelming attention given to children and to teens, then writes, “… one would surmise that our junior high schools, high schools and colleges are the most perfect environments ever devised for sex—that America’s youth are inmates in great sex colonies where they wheel in circles holding hands with their pants down.” Greif looks at our culture and sees it’s looking at us. That it lives smashed up right against us and, consequently, shares with us a sort of societal acne. Of course he doesn’t mean that every campus is a den of orgy: only that it’s a sorry state of affairs that we could ever think of a campus that way. He does
suggest that the way to fix things, if it’s not too late, is through a true liberalization—not the reckless liberation—of sex, accompanied by “the denigration of childhood.” As I sat there with my Harper’s, I tried to acknowledge his conclusions, which were, for the most part, clearly argued and sensical. But all I could think about was that circle of young people in New York. Why did he ask such provocative, grown-up questions, if he’d already decided we were—are—so dumb? Greif looks at our culture and sees it’s looking at us, and so he decides he ought to look too. What he discovers, he writes, is that we are “blanks.” “Incipient forms of life.” His tone becomes increasingly negative (consider the suggestion of the word “insipid” in the last example), as he adopts the attitude of denigration he’s already recommended. Thus that troubling final line. Almost a mantra, though it seems that by July he was still having trouble making himself believe it, or least finding another kind of person to which he’d rather direct his microphone. The young are beautiful, but they are stupid.
his essay is about a few writers, some from the East Coast, like Greif, and some from the West. It is about a few small magazines, and a few books a few writers from those magazines have written. It has the sad flaw of being confined to my own experience—though it is an honest attempt to say something about you, persons of similar age and education. About why a person like you might care about those magazines and their writers. And why they care so much about us, enough to dismiss us all outright.
Mark Greif is one of four founding editors of n+1. It’s a small magazine in terms of dimension and sales and circulation; it treats culture and literature and art and politics and philosophy and prints new fiction. The name refers, rather charmingly, to the notation for each mathematical object in an advancing series. It’s the magazine where I interned in New York last summer, after Greif wrote “Afternoon of the Sex Children” but months before it came in the mail n+1 is where I decided, even before I read that essay, that there might be nothing better than being in California, here in the company of the young and the smart. I read Dave Eggers’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius on a tour through California with my mother when I was fifteen. We were clinging to the 1 in a tiny Subaru rental spacecraftish thing. A Grand Vitara. I was keeping a notebook—and I noted, alongside the fact that no one else was dumb enough to be driving a Grand Vitara—this sentence: Have you been to fucking California? Awesome. The work of a Dickens or maybe a Proust, so I’m ashamed to say it isn’t mine. I copied it down from A Heartbreaking Work. I thought it was somehow exemplary, despite the fact that every other sentence in that book explodes, pushes too hard, catapults its pronouns at you (you! Me! US!). Or somersaults and cartwheels and turns a double flip and then finishes on its knees, arms outstretched, jazz hands in full effect! It’s a book full of real supplicating look-at-me sort of sentences. Always with the exclamation point. But that one, the fucking California is pretty plain, save for the f-bomb, and it’s objectively pretty stupid. Sometimes Eggers writes stupid sentences. And yet.
That sentence comes back to me three days before Christmas five years later, driving back from Berkeley with my little brother. It’s midmorning. We ought to return the car by noon so our mother can take it to buy us presents. The brother is so hung over he’s trying not to vomit out the window of our Isuzu onto the Subaru next to us, but I can’t drive stick. So. Nut up, dude, I tell him. Get us home. We hit the Bay from the bottom of University Avenue (that’s the route; from University Avenue to 880 to the other University Avenue, reverse and repeat) and get on to the frontage road so that we’re driving along the water. The whole silvery spread of it unravels at the shoreline just a yard or so from our tires. It would be so very easy for a headachey nauseated screweddriver of a nineteen-year-old to plow right out into the waves—but instead of saying, Keep your eyes on the road, Sam, and your oj in your stomach, I say, hey, dude, there is the city. The brother stops fighting his bile for a second and turns and looks. There it is, perched there in the water and wreathed in all sorts of fog and Sam says Whoah and I think Have you been to fucking California? That’s what Dave Eggers has, what to me Eggers did better than any other writer writing the I-am-twenty-something-and-something-hashappened-to-me book. A Heartbreaking Work is a semi-fictional memoir. Eggers relates his zeitgeisty misadventures raising his eleven-year-old little brother, Toph. Entailed therein is the relocation of the Eggers siblings from Chicago to Berkeley, the founding of Eggers’s first magazine and his struggle to come to grips with his parents’ death. At its best, Eggers’s voice can be so strong, so cumulative and clear, that (with the exception of a less-awesome short novel called You Shall Know Our Velocity!) I would not hesitate to say that anyone under the age of thirty in the Bay Area should read him, especially if they aren’t native Californians, and also that their parents should read him, and that all people of all ages and all provenances should
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read him too. His writing is my touchstone. It rises as San Francisco does, above its own engrossing stew, a whole bright city blazing in the muddle of a fog. A Heartbreaking Work was published in 2000; that year it hit No.1 on the Times Bestseller List and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Some reviewers were less enthusiastic; I’ve read a few pieces to the tune of If I ever meet Dave Eggers I will punch him in the face. Fine. Not everyone loves A Heartbreaking Work. Fine. People take issue with the drawings of staplers and floor plans and a design for an employee of the month certificate. And a ridiculous chapter-long preface that includes instructions on “how to enjoy this book.” Fine. Po-mo gewgaws can be irritating, though I don’t think in Eggers’s case they obscure too much of the heartbreak. That readiness to punch the man was why I was overjoyed when Eggers’s McSweeney’s Books published his first long novel, What is the What, this fall. It has precisely none of the gimmickry of A Heartbreaking Work and all the blood and guts and brains and anger and joy that Eggers can spill on a page. It is the book that will mark Eggers as one of the great talents of our day. A rare, complicated talent at that—at once conscientious, conscienced and enraged. In What is the What Eggers ventriloquizes Valentino Achak Deng, a Sudanese Lost Boy he interviewed over five or so years. The narrative bounces back and forth from Deng’s new home in Atlanta to his exodus from his village in Bar Al-Ghazal to Ethiopia to Kenya to Atlanta. Deng undergoes trial by starvation, violence, disease, distance, and fire, of course, gun- and otherwise. Eggers takes some liberties—he adjusts a little of the timeline, he re-imagines tiny pieces of Deng’s life to fit them into his framework. Each episode of Deng’s journey, in fact, is told as a sort of silent projection to Americans he encounters in Atlanta— customers at the gym where he works, a little boy named Michael who is assigned to watch a bound and gagged Deng at his shared apartment during a robbery, an unsympathetic emergency room attendant named Julian. For example: I want to be independent and move through this world without having
to ask questions. But for now I still have too many, and this is frustrating to one such as Julian, who feels he knows the answers and knows me. But Julian, you know nothing yet. Eggers’s Deng goes on to unload four chapters’ worth of silent tragedy and terror onto Julian’s unsuspecting head. These broadcasts, these imperatives of Deng’s are what reveal Eggers’s gift, his special fictive alchemy. They are what transmute the power of Valentino Achak Deng’s experiences into a work of literary art. I must tell my story, the fictionalized Deng insists. I must. You cannot ignore me, and I cannot ignore you. Even when we are silent, no one ever shuts up—this is Eggers. This is what he does best. I am owed, he writes in A Heartbreaking Work. I am going to tell you a story and there is absolutely zero zilch nada nothing you can do about it.
n the first issue of n+1, a man named Keith Gessen wrote an lengthy piece on a kid named Gary Baum. Gessen is the magazine’s second founding editor, a handsome Russian émigré with a smile the size of a fist. Baum is a pimply teenager who ran an impressively complicated and thorough website that collected every piece of Eggers-related writing and gossip and linked it all up online. Baum contributed commentary—why was Eggers interviewed in such and such a magazine? Because his girlfriend went to middle school with such and such an editor!—though as the Friends of Eggers! Log grew, an increasing amount of its increasingly critical mass came from responses from FoE! readers. Gary began receiving and posting more and more emails from Eggers fans, Eggers friends, and of course, Eggers haters. He even got a few from Eggers’s sister, Beth. And so Gessen went to meet Gary, to write about the teenager who was writing all the provocative stuff about that provocative young man who wrote the provocative book of the year. Gessen’s story about Baum was originally set to run in the Atlantic Monthly. A little while before its print date, Beth Eggers committed suicide. A little while after that, Gessen’s Gary piece was printed in the first issue of n+1, under the title Eggers, Teen Idol. It’s good writing, and good reading, but it was accompanied
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by an unapologetic postscript explaining what had happened, how Gessen had worried over the article, how it had been pulled from the Atlantic after Eggers’s sister death, how Gary didn’t have such bad pimples anymore. The implication was that the story’s appearance in n+1 was somehow okay because the editors of n+1 had written an unapologetic postscript. Eggers and n+1, you may imagine, are not on friendly terms. That first n+1 also contained a mission statement of sorts, a recurring feature that has since been called both the Intellectual Scene and the Intellectual Situation. In that first Scene, a snarky narrator-type goes to his mailbox and to newsstands in search of reading material. He finds he hates McSweeney’s, The Believer, The New Republic, all the literary magazines of our day (the first two are projects of Eggers and/or his wife, Vendela Vida and their mutual friends Ed Park and Heidi Julavitz). He calls them (especially the first two) even childish. Thus the existence of n+1. Thus another little magazine that claims it shall say, since no one else seems to be saying it with any degree of force or honesty, what one—and everyone and everything—means. This time from a grown-up intellectual’s point of view. The idea of the grown-up intellectual is in fact a clue to why Mark Greif keeps looking over his shoulder, extending his tape recorder to the kids coming up from behind, documenting and then dismissing. He writes (in a segment of “Afternoon of the Sex Children” not excerpted in Harper’s—unfortunate, considering that the readership of Harper’s is eighty times that of n+1), “When you look up the age ladder, you look at strangers; when you look down the age ladder, you are always looking at versions of yourself.” Greif is thinking about teenagers having sex instead of thinking about teenagers reading books; what he’s doing by denying the complex and valuable intellectual life of young people is defending his place as a grownup on the rungs. It’s also a clue to why Eggers’s style and the his status with literary teens might be irksome to the literary adults at n+1. Young people can look up the age ladder to Eggers and see not a stranger but another human—some vaguely familiar version of themselves. Maturity becomes
less menacing. Responding, so does youth, and a great deal of the anxiety between all the rungs is transmuted to excitement. In August n+1 threw a party on Bleeker Street. By some flabbergasting coincidence, the apartment above the one we used said Eggers by the bell. No way it’s him! all the interns said. Is he going to come to our party? We were so excited, even though Eggers is at the very bottom of the list of things n+1 likes—and surely vice versa. No one failed to mention it, that little name by the bell.
AGAINST THE REMORSE OF ORPHEUS I.
We’ve peeled grapes enough to taste the tannins, their smell still damp on our thumbs. And I can still hear every tune your lyre has ever sung.
You used to catch me hanging over 7 a.m. traffic from a ninth story guardrail. It made me feel alive to be lost in the smog.
hough n+1 has its teen idol, too, a Colorado native named Benjamin Kunkel whose debut novel Indecision made the front page of The New York Times Book Review and received a number of other plaudits that mean a great deal to young people who write books. Its narrator, Dwight Wilmerding, is an idiot of a twentyeight-year-old who suffers from the affliction mentioned in the title. So much, in fact, that a friend diagnoses him as suffering from abulia, Kunkel’s made-up clinical term for being twenty-eight and stupid and unable to decide what to do with your life and/or girlfriend and/or roommates and/ or job. To cure this Dwight is medicated by the same friend, who hands over a vial of Abulinix, which, guess what, nixes his abulia. He then flies off to Ecuador for adventure at the vague invitation of a prep school friend. Indecision is a funny book. As a funny book, it’s a great success. For example, at a certain point Dwight overhears a woman masturbating while the two are sharing a tent on a jungle hike. Dwight decides what the hell, if she’s going to touch herself, I will, too, so right there in his hammock he slips his pants off and starts right in. And then the woman hears him and gets all upset, and it turns out her snuffly moaning sounds aren’t what Dwight thought at all—she wasn’t touching herself. His friend was crying. Yikes. Benjamin Kunkel is the third of the four founding editors of n+1. He is very principled, which makes such a book problematic. Benjamin Kunkel is also very beautiful, which makes Ben himself even more problematic. Ben has appeared in GQ and Vogue. The Dutch edition of Indecision bears not one but four photographs of him on its jacket, each with his chin pointed in a slightly different
III. You never did believe in fate but the mythology goes The snake bit the foot that trampled too close. The foot was being chased because it was white. And you could not have wanted it any other way. Regret has no place in this story. Had you not turned when I called, I could not have loved you.
IV. Take note of why the cold-blooded snake strikes at weakling rustles in the grass nearby, his grace of execution; how well he sloughs off what’s dead and turns wholly away.
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direction (perhaps they couldn’t decide which was his good side). The first time I met Ben he was in the company of Loren Stein, the editor at Farrar, Strauss & Giroux who made the first YouTube book videos— like music videos, but short scenes from Gregoire Bouillier’s The Mystery Guest. A marketing ploy stolen from the recording industry. Would that the literary world wasn’t like this. Would that Ben Kunkel (this is a man who is very very worried about the state of art in localized societies after global warming and the impending oil crisis render modern transport impossible) didn’t fit so easily into it. A few weeks after that, in an utterly characteristic fit of awkwardness, I asked Ben if he felt that his book—particularly the ending, in which our protagonist discovers that democratic socialism comes hand-inhand with a sexual epiphany (his partner is a jaw-dropping Belgian woman who’s into, of all things, helping orphans) induced by psychotropic drugs in the Latin American jungle—okay, what I wanted to know was if he thought that whole thing was irresponsible. I just, uh, I think it’s irresponsible, I said. I mean, how can you think that way? How could you believe in that? How could you even suggest that sex could do that for people? Kunkel laughed. He said, Well, don’t you think it could happen? No. Yes. It’s impossible to guess what Ben thinks about it, either. Indecision, I suppose, really is endemic. Our man Dwight laments that he feels like an abandoned “scrap of sociology.” He knows his problems are everyone’s problems, and thus stupid as well as paralyzing, but no matter how precocious he is he can’t help but feel the way he feels. At first, it’s easy to relate to Dwight, to share the woes he shares with other upper-middleclass WASPy people, to follow Kunkel’s precocious little comedy—until we reach some ludicrous jungle where it’s no longer possible to say what’s goofy and what isn’t, what’s too silly to be sincere. Even before he gets on his plane, Dwight relates how he spent the morning of September 11th; having just finished a really awesome ecstasy trip, he climbs to a rooftop just in time to see the Towers fall. And suddenly, he feels really really bad. Kunkel’s novel has been compared to The Catcher in the Rye. Many critics hailed Indecision as definitive of youth in this moment (as A Heartworking Work was hailed in the
moment just before that). But with Salinger I don’t recall having such trouble tweezing out an emotional truth. Indecision is a funny book. It’s just too funny, and the shift in tone that is meant to propel the reader into some kind of faith in Dwight the Abuliatic as he discovers how to assume the mantle of political righteousness is just a hairsbreadth shy of nonexistent. Would that we could all just go to Ecuador and fuck our silly brains out ‘til we’re serious. We, the people from the ages of sixteen to twenty-six form the last ranks of the immediate post-911 generation. We were welcomed into or out of our adolescences by one of the most terrifying events in American history. If Kunkel’s book is the book of our young moment—and I must stress again it is a book that I mostly enjoyed reading—would that someone could say the joke stops here.
n “Afternoon of the Sex Children,” Greif suggests we denigrate childhood in the name of bettering society and encouraging seriousness. I understand that theoretically— the less fuss about kids, the more work we get done. Remove the ironclad obsessive social taboo from thinking about kiddies and the motive to fetishize them just might dissolve. Though I don’t quite believe him, I can understand him. I suppose the alternative is to praise the mature. To value adulthood. But I have to ask: what exactly is a grown-up? I’m still having trouble sounding it out, past the usually biological and/or legal criteria. There’s perhaps an identification of this oh-so-common problem (but certainly no solution) in Indecision. Some more “mature” novels do come to mind— John McGahern’s The Leavetaking for one, though others—John Irving’s Rabbit trilogy, Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow, Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road—seem to suggest true maturity comes late, patchily, if ever it does. I’ve read the phrase “satisfying adult love” somewhere—on the back of The Leavetaking, actually, nowhere naughty, and I understood the feel of it but certainly not the meaning. Marco Roth, the fourth and final and oldest founder of n+1 (all of whom attended Harvard, Yale, Columbia or some combination thereof), offers this sentence in Issue Four: “Becoming a responsible citizen and even an adult is precisely about
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knowing when to judge and condemn and when to sympathize and care.” Marco Roth is very smart. His academic pedigree is as impressive as they come. Once he got a compliment on his French skills from Jacques Derrida. But I think Roth’s formulation is an approximation at best. It is bereft of surety, as are we. No one ever knows when to care all the time, even in the development of an adult love (McGahern’s story is about the shedding of the legacy of one’s parents, and how long it can take, how it’s impossible for some), even when embracing their children (Roth once wrote a piece about Ferberizing his daughter—his uncertainty as to ever knowing if he’d done her any good, and how agonizing it was to hear her scream and be unable to pick her up). All sympathy is a matter of some calculus across unknowns. In other words, a risk. In What is the What, Valentino Achak Deng asks, in a moment of sincere befuddlement, “What is wrong with these people that they want to help us?” I don’t understand why Marco Roth didn’t conceive such an intelligent, fundamental question at one point or another in his thinking about compassion and judgment, or, if he did, why he hasn’t written it yet, or why he suggests that constructive sympathy is adults-only. I went to the Undergraduate Research Grant Office or whatever it’s called in Sweet Hall just before Christmas, and the woman I sat down with listened to my spiel on a human rights organization I want to study and then she asked me if I were planning on taking this money and trying to help people with it. We’re very cautious about that, she said, since that sort of thing is so popular these days. I assured her I was not intending to help anyone and she sat back in her chair as though I had just lifted some Sisyphean weight from her shoulders. That sort of thing is so popular these days. Maybe in some ways college isn’t retarding us. Maybe adolescents aren’t all bad people, not at all. We are still choosing, still in that unique space one step before the present and one step into the future. Already we have chosen to do some good, enough to raise official suspicion. There’s no psychedelic condomless Belgian 69 waiting for us when we get off the plane to Ecuador, probably just aid work or research or teaching, and we all know it and still we’re taking the trip. We, like all the generations
who have grown up before us, still have the luxury of deciding to decide and not all of us are as stupid as our man Dwight. Maybe Kunkel is at worst proof that the young can offer up enthusiasm and muscle and even brains but no real art, and until we’ve learned to write like grownups— until we’ve had the earnestness beaten out of us—our stories should die in our hard drives and no one should mourn, not even us. I don’t know if it’s a truth or a truism that the first book anyone writes is the first book he ought to throw away. Though maybe we, and Kunkel, are at best something else. In his New York Times review novelist Jay McInerny writes that Indecision is perhaps “a tentative response to David Foster Wallace’s call for a new generation of sincere antirebels.” The quotation to which he refers is this: The next real literary ‘rebels’ in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. (“E Unibus Pluram,” A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again) As boring as that sounds, it may be applicable. Maybe many of us here are kids with a liberal arts education bound for the upper middle class. Maybe our workshopmangled stories are bound for the electronic dustbin. But maybe The New Sincerity, as the capitalizers have called it, is real. The phrase has appeared in the last few years in painting and poetry; at least some people are saying that a modern cultural undertaking could aim all its force at good old Clarity and Honesty and Truth. n+1 has said it, too. Their number one goal is to say what they mean, the way that they mean it. One of n+1’s cultural heroes, the critic Lionel Trilling, writes that sincerity hinges on the force we can feel behind Polonius’s familiar lines: “This above all: to thine own self be true / And it doth follow, as the night the day, / Thou canst not then to be false to any man.” Sincerity is bred in adhesion to that problematic animus, the true self, in
order that the true self is the self displayed to others. I can see true self in the young writing here, especially in poetry, especially when one or two of its feet are still located in childhood. I see much much more of it here than I have in most published modern fiction. Some of us have not yet learned to dissimulate. Kunkel’s book could maybe be read thus. But I think we could write better than he did, without the philosophical political sexual prankery. I think sincerity is a particularly youthful kind of arrogance—and one of the great hopes of man, tied closely to stability— that what you love loves you back and it won’t disappear, be it home, self, family, country. Here is Valentino again: The walk to Ethiopia, Julian, was only the beginning. Yes we had walked for months across deserts and wetlands, our ranks thinned daily. There was war all over southern Sudan but in Ethiopia, we were told, we would be safe and there would be food, dry beds, school. I admit that on the way, I allowed my imagination to flower. As we drew closer to the border, my expectations had come to include homes for each of us, new families, tall buildings, glass, waterfalls, bowls of bright oranges set upon clean tables. But when we reached Ethiopia, it was not that place. (What is the What, Chapter XVII) That place, that ineffable paradise, different for every human on this earth but universal in its concept—for me it’s somewhere close to here. Sometimes I think I’ve almost found it. Effing California, man. n+1’s ethic is East Coast. Despite the fact that few of its editors and writers are native New Yorkers, and that Kunkel’s first pieces appeared in The Believer, the stylistic distance between the San Francisco magazines and
n+1 could not be greater. n+1’s editors have criticized both McSweeney’s and The Believer for their obsession with childhood and childishness, for their focus on inclusion and enthusiasm rather than appropriate criticism. For what it might be easy to call febrility thinly masked as fertility. The West Coast loves everything, and loves it too much. Everything grows here, which is unnerving and unhealthy. As Greif remarks, a humane society would devalue its children. So California ought to neuter them, maybe. n+1 even points to the growth of 826 National, Eggers’s urban tutoring and scholarship program, as a symptom of an unhealthy obsession with kids. In its first issue n+1 announced, in its customary Continental elitist baroque, that “childhood is [the Eggersards’] leitmotif.” Yes, 826 engages a leitmotif in that it exists to help children, to make childhood something worth expressing and celebrating, which seems—more than humane—wonderfully human. To begin arts education early. Productive, intellectually engaged children are often happy, safe children that can contribute to a society hand-in-hand with adults (we wouldn’t have them anymore if they didn’t
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give us something). And those kids will grow up brainy and strong. The first 826 center was founded in San Francisco at 826 Valencia. The second and third followed in Los Angeles and Brooklyn, and now there’s an 826 for Seattle, Chicago, and one for the entire state of Michigan. Each center publishes student work regularly. 826 authors visit students in their classrooms. 826 National hands out thousands of dollars to send young writers to college. It is easy to see how the “Eggersards” (the n+1 term for the McSweeney’s/Believer folk) might be accused of making intellectualism a less immediate priority in dint of all this madness over kids. This year 826Michigan hosted an event called MittenFest. McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, the web counterpoint to McSweeney’s Quarterly, publishes pieces like “Shampoo,” “We are Having a Contest, with Prizes,” and “Reinventing the Mojito.” But does such Ivy League intellectualism always have to be the highest priority, such that we shove aside the development of the next wave of thinkers? As my mother says, there’s space for all kinds of people in the world, especially people encouraging creativity, self-expression and critical thought in inner city kids. Different strokes for different folks, different styles for different purposes. Kids don’t often read Hegel and sometimes don’t have the conceptual tools to enter higher philosophical discourse, but in preparing them for that later work you might as well teach them poetry. And the ad hominem judgments as to what sort of person Dave Eggers might be, well, those are even less important. At my first and last scenester New York party, a twitchy sophomore from NYU blew his boozebreath in my face and said, So Eggers is a real dick, right? Man, I really don’t know. I just like his books.
n A Heartbreaking Work Eggers explains that the founding of Might, his first magazine, had to take place in San Francisco. The technology in New York City was “ten years behind.” Nobody wanted to be there. Everybody wanted to be here. Here where nobodies were getting rich off technologies that gave more nobodies the chance to get rich, the greenest bubble in America, and even though that bubble burst the grass is still growing and here we are, everybody. Stanford! Here it’s pretty difficult not to be optimistic. We discover, every day, that just
because something is cool doesn’t mean it’s bad. Here we’re pretty good at working the market to expand information technology, fight cancer, build robots and microchips and rockets while providing a slew of talented undergraduates with a liberal education. I mean, come on. In our Earth Sciences department, we lead the world in attaching price tags to ecosystem services and carbon credits—perhaps the best and only way to bring the business world on board to slow global warming and preserve the oceans. Last summer, I was in New York because I did decide I wanted to be there instead. I was fed up with how happy I was, and I needed to test the giddy exhaustion I felt at being firmly lodged in Silicon Valley at the confluence of like seven American frontiers. I wanted to go to a place where there were only writers for a while. I learned a lot about how fucking hot it is in New York, as well as many other things. I learned what a small magazine in New York does as compared to one in California, and how neither method is sufficient on its own. In August Molly, one of my fellow interns, wanted to clean up the n+1 website. She and Gessen and Chad Harbach, n+1’s web editor, talked about it. I myself was eating ice cream and catching up on the work I didn’t do the night before because I was reading Kunkel’s book. Gessen, who was sweeping the office with half a filthy broom, said, No, no, Molly. It shouldn’t feel like Internet. We want it to be not-Internet. It’s not supposed to be Internet. Greif, too, has a Luddite streak—his next essay, he once told us, was going to trace the de-civilizing influence of the cellphone back to the development of written language. And Kunkel, as we arranged to meet to have that awkward here’s-what-I-think-of-yourbook talk, told me that n+1 was about “to come out against email.” There’s a very real discontent behind those kind of quips. I think it springs from a rarified East Coast liberal distrust of (1) the profit motive, the dumb destructiveness of the market (which has depressed the postindustrial northern and eastern regions of this country, including New England and New York, at the same time as it nourishes the Bay Area) and of (2) unruly or rough speech and its organs, these days mostly cell phones and computers. Lionel Trilling calls this “mechanical literacy,” and the implication behind it—behind both capitalism and electronic babble—is vulgarity.
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Though I suppose it doesn’t matter if one prefers email or passenger pigeon. No one can change the world with a magazine. Eggers proved it takes a magazine and a string of successful books and then another magazine and then a publishing house and a charitable organization and working relationships with movie stars and moviemakers and more books after that. It seems that’s what n+1 is trying or will have to do, even if they won’t admit it yet. Even if their aesthetic—high-brow bluntness is an aethestic—is different. Literary magazines are terribly difficult things, especially when they’re out in the real world, out from under the wing of an academic institution. They are all a sort of paradox: journals published six or four or two times a year encourage slow writing, long pieces—which means slow, long untimely reading—but they also thrive off of cultural critique, and in our speedy, transparent age meaningful insight is often swallowed up in a heartbeat. Eggers and friends have worked around that by poking their fingers into the cultural cache of every literate era since Christ (one issue of McSweeney’s was packaged and mailed as a faux trove of early 20th century war memorabilia, a shoebox full of pamphlets and flyers and badges). They cast a wide and often indiscriminate net in a very successful sort of thrift shop hipster antitrendy trendiness. n+1 selects very narrowly from American literary history, harkening back to the style of magazines like The Partisan Review and Dissent. They aim to pick up the thread espoused by that guy Trilling, the founder of the Partisan Review, in his essay “The Function of the Little Magazine.” He explains that great literary and political seriousness are no longer united in modern writing. That the little magazine should try to preserve any tendency toward the reunion of quality, depth of feeling, and ideological weight instead of skittering everywhere, allowing tangential reflection, or attending to the concerns of those not of like mind. To Trilling catering to a coterie is acceptable, because, let’s face it, not many Americans are interested in heavy ideas these days. No one ought to address the hordes. Trilling would call that “grossness and crudeness,” and it’s television’s job. Many, however, would call a full elaboration of Trilling’s ideas snobbery and
doomsdaying. The Believer introduces heavy ideas en masse, as playthings, in the more of the spirit of free association than meditation. It’s not respectful, per se. It’s not meant to be, and it can be surprisingly effective—in the same way the arrangements of junk in a Joseph Cornell box can startle and shock the very depths of the heart. Or a Duchamp readymade might shred the curtain between our staid, more accustomed existence and an impudent world of living of art. The split between the two, irreverence and solemnity, and where truth might fall between them, is a problem critics must ceaselessly resolve, one of culture’s great questions. On the small scale, the official word on the n+1 vs. Believer spat has belonged for the last year or so to New York Times critic A. O. Scott. Folks on both coasts point toward his article to sum up what they, a bunch of writers, didn’t do such a good job summing up. He praised n+1 for their intellectualism and for their seriousness, The Believer for its optimism and for its anti-seriousness. Such a logical, wonderful conclusion—in a bind between two ways of living and thinking, a truly flexible mind could appreciate both.
fternoon of the Sex Children” begins, “Envy of one’s sexual successors is a cliché of modernity.” More broadly, envy of any kind of successor is a cliché of modernity. Period. And envy of one’s predecessors. Greif is right to admit this—and his essay’s position is particularly important to us, to young people, not only because we are the object of the envy he identifies in (and in some part, projects onto) American culture. We are the ones in motion, we shift. We have those flexible minds; possibility is what young people have in spades. It’s a threat, and it’s a sexy thing, and like all really sexy things it fascinates and it’s impossible to quantify. Writers like Greif sometimes come close, writers like Eggers come closer, but the rate of their successes is always low. Thus we must be very careful, we teenagers and twenty-somethings, to lay claim to our stories and our style before anybody else does. We must be careful what we say, but more importantly, we must say something. It’s true that college retards adulthood, that we are being granted a second adolescence, but we also have on our hands plenty of time to care, ardently and pigheadedly, about the wrong and the
right things, and plenty of time for sex (the minuscule amount of time most of us spend actually having it I think would probably shock the nation), and/or falling in love. And plenty of time for other things, too, like helping each other. And writing about all of it. We are doing this while our minds and bodies are still flexible, and it’s hard even for grumpy intellectuals not to take notice. At the end of “Afternoon of the Sex Children,” Greif takes up the idea that, to prevent us from holding hands with our pants down and selling the pictures to pay for more drugs, maybe sex could be like meeting for coffee—prearranged, no muss, no fuss. Nobody goes home with anybody, at least not to stay, which will discourage fleshpeddlers and paparazzi from courting sixteen-year-old girls and vice versa. That is, he grants, almost exactly as sketched by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World. I think I’ll take the alternative, messy and cheapened and disappointing and unglamorous though it may be. Greif calls the young “beautiful” but “stupid.” He calls us “an incipient form of life.” This, as you know, I find confusing, even beyond the reasoning heretofore marshalled, beyond even the piteous, unintentional little wad of woe stuck to his sex appointment quips like gum on a shoe (something which might even move me to sympathy, were I not so young and stupid). Haven’t older men said, in less scary faux sociopoetic terms, that every man, no matter how wrinkled, is an incipient form of life? At the end of Mark Greif’s gathering, Mark Greif rewound the tape. Let’s see, he said, and played it back, and the only voice we could hear at all was the one that belonged to Mark Greif. I think he was embarrassed, as he very well should have been. It’s bad form to drown out the people you’re trying to charm, though all the New Yorkers were for turning the thing back on and trying to talk to it again. I found myself wondering why they’d bother with even one more of his questions. Yes, I will love my children as much as my parents love me. That is a datum I will confirm as I live. That is a datum that is not for Mark Greif to manipulate. It is not for literary sociology (the novel, that great engine of the investigation of individual human character, seems to me to put the lie to “literary sociology” anyway. As Dwight says, sociology shreds us and leaves no
space for us to feel). It is for me, and I will write it if I see fit, with all the truth a human can bring to bear in prose. Of course children are valuable. Of course the young are fascinating. Of course the old and the middle-aged are fascinating too. We are all incipient, at least partial blanks, from age zero to whatever fabulously old age people are expected to live these days. And the whole way through, every human with language tells a thousand stories of his own. That’s one thing that doesn’t shift. This is what is all too easy for our elders not to see, even though it’s true of all of them as well: our stories are born much more often than we are. Of course young people are not mature. That’s something you can get with the help of a dictionary; it doesn’t need any doublethink about culture in our day. What we, fresh from the lecture hall, do have is the energy to feed and train and set our stories free out in the world. That power Valentino Achak Deng wields so well—the power to speak, to refuse to be ignored, to narrate viciously, mercilessly, urgently—is a power we can wield ourselves. For now, for us, of course all the stories we have are of being young. Because the only person who can examine your life, transcend all your weeks and years of breathing and thinking, locate yourself in the proper context and then move outside and above it—is you. In some way, you’re all that you’ve got, the only one deciding what’s it like to be alive. That’s Greif’s and Eggers’s and Kunkel’s—and most writers’—holy grail, that decision, that experience, and they look all over for it, and of course that means at times they’ll try and look for it in you. That’s what little magazines and poems and stories and novels and writers themselves are for. And you, whether you read or you write or both or neither—you are alive in this world and you drink from that cup. This is what I’ve learned from magazines, from writing and the writers I love, even Greif: how unbelievably lucky you—I, we, young people—are. We’ve got a flexibility and a vigor ready to put to use before it disappears (up the ladder, there’s Greif, to remind us of the worst). And we’re in California, no less—one of the first big choices we’ve been asked to make, one of the first big things we’ve done ineffably right. Oh, we may be young, but stupid we are not. L
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er silv a seam of Professor Eavan Boland “No one ever recommends a poem because they think it’s academically useful. They recommend it because it is their poem and because it has meaning for them.”
LELAND QUARTERLY: How does your experience as a teacher interact with and inform your work?
EAVAN BOLAND: I’m definitely a teaching poet. If I stopped teaching, I’d miss it. And I’d miss something from my life as a poet too. In the classroom, there can be a living conversation going on that you can shape as a teacher, and it often helps me think about poetry. That’s not true of every poet. But I’m someone who’s benefited greatly, all my life, from people standing beside me and advocating that I read this or that poem. And the classroom itself can be a place of advocacy. One of the negative intellectual influences for me has been my sense—I often have it—of reading a book I wished I had read decades earlier. That’s another benefit of the classroom: you read things you mightn’t otherwise read for years. How do you encourage your students to Q. read and enjoy poetry?
Poetry is a bit like vegetables; you may not like one, but you’ll probably like another. I can understand and accept that people may not like every poem they read in a class. But something they like will lead on to something else. In the classroom I’m providing perspectives and tools. I’m not asking everyone to love all the poems in the course. Are there any poems you have found Q. particularly useful in that kind of teaching? 50
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One poem that I come back to repeatedly is “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden. It’s a poem about a boy and his father, about waking up in the morning and hearing the father bringing in the wood, lighting the fire. It’s also about disappointment and anger, and the closeness and yet the horrible distance between the members of a family. It’s is a big poem masquerading as a small poem. When you point people to it, they can see that. How might teaching a ‘difficult’ poem, Q. one that people cannot immediately engage with, suggest a different type of approach than when teaching one that people like and appreciate on a first pass?
It depends on how you define the role. In my view, a teacher isn’t there to explain a poem; a teacher is there to give access to it. The first makes for passivity. The second doesn’t. The challenge is to find the access and then make it visible. There are a great many things in a poem that might at first seem inaccessible, but students in a classroom have abilities to approach even the most difficult poem provided they are willing. The challenge is to put them in touch with their own abilities not yours. When did you begin writing poetry? Q.
I brought out my own chapbook when I was eighteen—in fact I think I was seventeen—but I don’t think I rescued but one poem from it later on. I did learn from it however. There’s a huge difference between writing poems and being a poet. While I was in school, I would often write poems, but I didn’t consider myself a poet, this is what I am instead of this is what I do. It was a long time before I began to think of myself in that way.
I’ve read that you are also very interested in computer technology.
Poets come with all different kinds
of brains. When I was young, I could remember strings of numbers even though I wasn’t good at math. Computers were just coming out while I was in school. Later I had a friend who built them, and I would help him do it. I quickly became fascinated at this new way of putting together not just a machine, but a new world. There is a typical view of poets that they are historic and anti-technological, but I never really auditioned for that particular stereotype. I love technology and I’m interested and excited by it. Maybe that’s not so unusual either. I can see how poetry and computer Q. science could be similar in that way, maybe as types of grammatical worldbuilding.
I would probably say syntactical rather than grammatical. I think the Irish think grammar was invented by the British. It’s impossible to trace back accurately, but poetry originated in societies dominated by magic. Those societies—I’m talking now about ones before the written record—probably had a hope and faith that certain kinds of language could control the world. Poetry began somewhere in and around there. Technology has brought back this hope in a dramatic and glamorous moment. Though no doubt it’ll be disproved once again.
In your poem, “Quarantine,” you write about an Irish couple that leaves work during the famine and ends up freezing to death together on the road home. There is a line: “Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.” I found this fascinating; could you perhaps expand on it?
Those two people are a footnote in a chronicle of the Irish famine. By the standards of history they were utterly unimportant. Their death is described in just a few sentences. Most traditional love poems—and it’s a genre that can be a satellite of that kind of hierarchy—would have paid very little attention to them. I
intended the line as a reproach to that. There’s always a risk that literature will write out of existence ordinary everyday people whose experiences are necessary to it. In that sense I wrote “Quarantine” as a dark love poem. Can you say more about your interest in Q. the Irish past and your development as a young poet?
When I was young I felt I was struggling to find my place in a powerful literary culture. Ireland had produced that literature in a fairly short time. It showed it was able to re-make the language—English, that is—in which it had been humiliated. Irish writers took a language used by the garrison, read out on eviction notices—the language the bailiff and the landlord both spoke—and forced it to tell the Irish story. That’s a powerful inheritance. But I still wanted to question it—especially about the role of women writers. And yet I didn’t even know what the questions were. And I didn’t know how to ask them. I had to re-think the culture and myself to get any answers. That’s how I came to believe there’s a difference between the past and history. Much of your early work traced mythical Q. themes. Can you describe how Classics may have influenced your writing?
I studied Greek and Roman myths when I was at Trinity. For a brief moment, doing my S levels in the GCSE, I was almost fluent in Latin, though I’ve lost a lot of it now. But I’m still interested in how myths come into existence and how or why they continue into the present moment. I still have fragments of myths as a subject; it’s still a living literature for me. You mentioned struggling to find a place Q. for yourself in a powerful Irish literary tradition. Do you ever think about what your place might be today?
When you’re young, you think about those things. When you’re older, it
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seems less and less important. Context is a fixed measurement when you’re starting out, but it becomes more and more fluid as you get older. Those concerns—what sort of writer you are, who reads you, where your words end up—they settle down. You get a more equable attitude and concentrate more on the writing.
What sort of changes do you see taking place inside your work, as you look back on your career?
It’s hard to talk about your work as you do it. It’s always hard to put away a poem as a writer and go back to it as a reader. We don’t always have objective views; no writer ever does. Some poems you stay connected with over time— “Quarantine” was one for me—and some poems you lose track of. How do you position yourself between Q. Irish, British and American literature? Do you have any particular affinities?
I’m an Irish poet. That’s how I began. Irish writing has been the north star of my understanding of poetry and being a poet. But other voices matter to me. When I was twelve I moved to New York, and spent three years in school there. It was my first experience of America. It was a very happy one. It was also my first meeting with the work of American poets. The more I look at it, the more it seems to me that the American poetic narrative is completely different from the Irish one. There are more differences than similarities. To start with, America emerged as a nation and a state at the same time. It had a high literacy rate in the 19th century, and when poems were composed and published they were simultaneously read. Ireland, by contrast, was a nation before it was a state. It had a low literacy rate, and an immensely rich oral culture. Those two apparently abstract facts actually have a practical effect on the construction of the poet and society’s perception of that. 52
And those are very different perceptions in those two countries. There’s a saying in Ireland, about writing “a poem that lives in the hearts of the people.” That’s not as familiar a concept in American poetry. As far as I can see, the experimental tradition in the US is stronger than the populist one. It would be difficult to have an Irish Wallace Stevens.
How do you teach poetry as a craft?
Most people would say you can’t teach creative writing. But you can try to shape a community of craft where issues are brought up in a serious way. There’s no one way to do a thing, but a young writer can break out of their mannerisms in that kind of environment. Myself and my colleagues here in the program—Elizabeth Tallent, Toby Wolff, Ken Fields, Simone di Piero and John L’Heureux—all have different ways of doing it. The Jones lecturers do a great job of providing it for undergraduates. Workshops are testing and challenging environments for young poets. When I was young and writing poems, I never did a workshop. Instead, my friends and I wrote poetry and told each other how good we were. That’s not a community of craft exactly; but it probably passed for one at the time. I think that I might well have benefited from a rigorous, serious and challenging experience. I admire younger poets who engage with that. I admire the seriousness and the commitment of the Stegner Fellows in particular. All the same, it’s hard to quantify just how much craft can be taught. Writing can be like mining a piece of rock. Sometimes you come up with just rock, sometimes silver, but when you come up with silver it’s always from that same seam. I really believe a writer has only one seam of that silver. Craft doesn’t change the rock, but it can give you better ways of mining it. Still, you don’t necessarily have to get better as you continue writing. When you’re young, you write poems you couldn’t or wouldn’t write again. When you’re older that’s reversed. That is why, if I’m interested in a poet, I always want to have the complete
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body of work. If I’m reading Yeats, then I want to have both the young and the old Yeats there with me. What role might reading or writing poetry Q. play in the educational experience of someone that came to Stanford with a plan to study something strictly technical?
There’s a shadow behind that question, which is: Is poetry useful? It gets asked all the time. But that’s entirely the wrong way to think about it. Poetry is written alone and read alone. But like the guide in the play Everyman, a lot of people find it at their side “in their most need.” Poems and fragments of poems accompany people through grief and solitude and meaninglessness where other things fail. No one ever recommends a poem because they think it’s academically useful. They recommend it because it is their poem and because it has meaning for them. That’s the big difference between the canon and the tradition. The canon is a creature of every age, but the tradition is shared hand to hand, person to person. It is loved person to person. And that’s the reason the tradition is always dominant over the canon. Poetry is one of the high arts. It’s more portable than the other ones, but less collaborative. Poems are written alone and read alone. But I do understand that poetry can look unapproachable to someone. Students will often say, “I don’t know anything about poetry.” But if they participate in it that changes. They find they know enough. They know how to put words down on the page and to put feeling into those words. Then again, poetry is a choice and not a compulsion. People have to find it for themselves. But what about poetry that’s designed for an immediate impact? Political poetry, for example, or spoken word.
Political poems are complicated things. Some are immediate; some take time to come clear. Certainly, performance poetry
and spoken word have an immediate vitality and importance. I often listen to them and watch them with immense admiration. But occasionally I’m troubled by something: maybe the kind of poet I am, maybe the sort of reader I’ve become, makes me want to find the poem on the page after I’ve listened to it. So I go to look for it on the page and I can’t find it. I’ve never quite resolved that in my mind. Perhaps that’s specifically because it’s performative.
I’m sure it is. But it leaves me with a dilemma. Whatever it was I found so fascinating about the poem is often not expressed on the page—it belonged to the poet’s performance, the drama of the performance. You can’t find it on the page, so you can’t keep it. I’m open to arguments that that isn’t the way to think about these things. All the same I’ve never quite resolved this for myself. We do have one last question, another one about technology. Bandwidth, maybe. Professor Boland, what’s on your iPod?
Not music I’m afraid. Or not good music. I’m not musical. I don’t follow music at all. I’m not even sure how you get to be non-musical and be born in Ireland. But I was and I did. I don’t know what my taste in music would be if I had one, but it would almost certainly be bad. On the other hand, I love listening to books. I love to listen to Proust. I came to his work late and like so many other people got wrapped up in it. It’s only in the last ten years or so that this vast edifice has all been put down on tape. And that says something about how portable audio books have become. On tape, Proust is funny, entertaining, local and enchanting. Book by book I might have missed that. Or never started. I also listen to some political journalism. And right now, I’m listening to The Civil War by Shelby Foote. There are parts of a narrative you get best when you hear it. L
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53 MAE RYAN
Rudimentary Drawing, or I.
I used to watch for flatness in distant objects like the image of you approaching with a sun-ripe orange.
Exercises in Love Activity VII.
The movie ends in black and white. On either end of your mother’s couch, we smile: Dorothy will never be the same, we will never let ourselves be so uprooted by a wind.
One morning at my doorstep you take my mug of coffee, tell me not to be a writer. I am not sure why my hand gravitates to yours—why, for interfering, I want to ask you in.
The roller coaster carries us to a yellow moon, a purple sky. My stomach clambers up to where my heart should be: for a moment before the plummet, I cannot tell their difference.
Crushed red balsam, touch-me-nots, pressed to my fingers all night long: I’ll never feel my hands again, never stop blushing.
Empty bottles blue and brown line the hall and catch the light. We lie on the linoleum blowing on the rims.
VIII. The thud of a moth in the lantern, a half-eaten bowl of wined berries: I let the pace of fifty rabbit hearts course through my memory, corrode.
This shirt of yours needs washing from the way white flecks have nestled in the collar’s ribs. How do such aimless, harmless things settle so deeply?
The clock you left above the hearth ticks in quiet confidence. I peel translucent apple slices— despite the running water, hear it count a minute with precision.
Orange blossoms whiten and wilt in puddles on the grass. I used to think drawing was about making lines, tracing edges and then shading in, but an edge is made of whiteness: an edge is the light illuminating fully.
I forget to take my medicine, I neglect sweeping corners. Though days creep by between the drapes, we stay in bed, where light sifts softly: we watch dust rise and fall and wait.
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NICK BENAVIDES is a junior from Redmond, WA. KELLIE BROWNELL is a senior from Balboa Island, CA. REVTI GUPTA is a sophomore from Mumbai, India. MEGHAN DANIELS is a junior from Pawling, NY.
W H AT ? WHERE? WHEN?
A NOTE ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS
Thursday, February 8, 2007 Ian Watt Lecture 2007: Margaret Doody · Doody discusses “Nasty Characters and Unlovable Styles: The Novel’s Negative Way to Pleasure” · 7:00 PM · Margaret Jacks Hall, Terrace Room
SHAMALA GALLAGHER is a senior from San Jose, CA. KILLEEN HANSON is a junior from Rockville, MD. KYLE HAYNES is a senior from Marlborough, MA. KEVIN HILKE is a senior from O’Fallon, MO. TERESA KIM is a senior from Duluth, GA. IRIS LAW is a junior from Moorestown, NJ. MAE RYAN is a sophomore from Newton, MA. BRENDAN SELBY is a senior from Lake Forest, IL. M. SUTHERLAND is a junior from NYC. ADAM SCHAEFER is a senior from Cleveland, OH. STEVEN TAGLE is a senior from Yorba Linda, CA. ELIZABETH WALLS is a junior from Lake Oswego, OR. ANNIE WYMAN is a junior from Dallas, TX.
Q: HOW CAN I SUBMIT TO LELAND? – Leland publishes three times per year. We accept submissions on a rolling basis throughout the year. Submissions will be reviewed September through June, and we will do our best to respond within six to eight weeks.
– All submissions to Leland must be original, unpublished work. Please mention if you are submitting to other magazines simultaneously or if your work has received or is being considered for an award. – Leland accepts and encourages submissions in a wide range of disciplines, including: fiction, poetry, art, creative nonfiction (e.g. memoir, campus culture, student life), reviews (books, movies, music) and political essays (full-length investigative pieces). – The editors of Leland are concerned first and foremost with the quality of expression exhibited in a work, and not in the genre of work itself. Our goal is to have quality content across a breadth of disciplines, so please do not be afraid to innovate in your submissions.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007 Malina Stefanovska: “The ‘Political’ Bond in the Memoirs of Cardinal de Retz” · 6:30 PM · Stanford Humanities Center
Wednesday, February 21, 2007 Stegner Fellow Reading · Stegner Fellows Joshua Tyree and Jill McDonough will read from their work · 6:15 PM · Margaret Jacks Hall, Terrace Room
Wednesday, February 28, 2007 Mohr Visiting Poet: Robert Pinsky · Robert Pinsky will read from his work. · 8:00 PM · Campbell Recital Hall ·$44/$40 for adults, $22/$20 for Stanford students
Thursday, March 1, 2007 Book Discussion: Jody Greene’s The Trouble With Ownership · 5:00 PM · Margaret Jacks Hall, Terrace Room
Tuesday, March 6, 2007 Mohr Visiting Poet: Robert Pinsky · Robert Pinsky will hold an informal colloquium. · 11:00 AM · Margaret Jacks Hall, Terrace Room
– There is no expectation in terms of length of essays, poems, or fiction.
Wednesday, March 7, 2007
– Leland accepts submissions exclusively from current Stanford undergraduates.
Stegner Fellow Reading · Former Stegner Fellows David Roderick and Amaud Johnson will be reading from their work. · 6:15 PM · Margaret Jacks Hall, Terrace Room
– We encourage multiple submissions for as many issues to which you would like to contribute. That said, we request that you send in no more than six poems at a time and a maximum of four longer pieces. – All submissions are judged anonymously by the editors. Submissions can be sent to LelandQuarterly@gmail.com Check out Lelandquarterly.stanford.edu for more details.
Volume 1, Issue 2 Copyright ÂŠ 2007 by Leland Quarterly Stanford University http://Lelandquarterly.stanford.edu /