P L R
PRAGUE LITERARY REVIEW
Ahron Weiner, from Poison Dolls, 2003
aptation of the Passion of Christ. Director, played by Orson Welles, spouts ironical pastiche of Pasoliniâ€™s own intellectual positions.
Pasoliniâ€™s Crime Consider the following remarks made by Senator Julian McGauran, a member of the Senate select committee on community standards, regarding the recent re-banning of the film Salo The 120 Days of Sodom in Australia: â€œLet it be a lesson. This movie was the line in the sandâ€Ś Iâ€™m actually over the moon that the artists have been pulled back into lineâ€Ś You must remember, Iâ€™m National Partyâ€”artistic merit doesnâ€™t mean much to me.â€? A scene from La Ricotta (The Curd Cheese, 1963). Journalist approaches director of a grotesque film ad-
Journalist: What do you want to express with this new work of yours? Director: My profound, inmost, archaic Catholicism. Journalist: And what do you think of Italian society? Director: We have the most illiterate masses, the most ignorant bourgeoisie in Europe. Journalist: And what do you think about death? Director: As a Marxist, it is a fact which I do not (continued on page 6)
The Voice of Robert Desnos Quelle heure sera-t-il le jour ou ce que jâ€™attends arrivera? What time will it be on the day when what I am waiting for happens?
June 1945: in the Nazi concentration camp Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia, French writer Robert Desnos lies dying of typhoid fever. His breathing is almost imperceptible although occasionally he rejects enough breath to murmur incoherently. The storm outside is clearing and in the stillness blanket clouds fold back
to reveal isolated crystal stars, quivering with cold on the remotest parts of the dome. Someone has found a wildflower by the gate. The distant hum of aeroplanes. Limp flags. Robert Desnos lies dying. Born in Paris in 1900, Desnos joined the Surrealists in 1922. His early literary heroes were the nineteenth century poet Gerard de Nerval, the medieval alchemist Nicholas Flamel, Victor Hugo and Arthur Rimbaud. During the great surrealist period of the 1920s, he was a key participant in surrealist activities in which his specialty was speaking, writing and drawing while in a â€œhypnotic sleep.â€? In this trance-like state, he poured out poetry, prose and drawings and was said to have communicated with Hugo, the French Revolutionary leader Maximillion Robespierre and Marcel Duchampâ€™s alter-ego, Rrose SĂŠlavy. When Rrose SĂŠlavy spoke to Desnos, he recited numerous poetic word plays, short verbal puzzles that operate through substitution of sounds. Les lois de nos dĂŠsirs sont des dĂŠs sans loisir (The laws of our desires are dice without leisure). Between 1922 and 1923, Desnos produced 150 of these pieces, publishing them under the title, Rrose SĂŠlavy. Desnosâ€™s compact poetic mechanisms oscillate between two or more meanings through association of sounds and echoes of meaning that disrupt rational sense. While this was a common surrealist strategy, in Desnosâ€™s case, the voice who spoke was no longer his own but that of Rrose SĂŠlavy (a voice borrowed from Marcel Duchamp). Desnos turned his â€œhypnotic sleepâ€? method of composition to poetry and longer prose, producing two short novels, Mourning for Mourning and Liberty or Love! in 1924. These longer pieces are a continuation of the surrealist project of psychic automatism, defined by AndrĂŠ Breton as eruptions of spontaneous creation in which the writer supposedly surrenders his/her ego to chance. In Desnosâ€™s novels, automatic writing becomes pure intoxication. His voice summons shipwrecks, tornadoes and rainbows, utilising cinematic techniques to cut spontaneously between scenes, time frames and characters. As in a film, Desnosâ€™s writing moves fluidly between different viewpoints, speeds up to follow a train in flight or slows down to examine the wreckage of its crash, occasionally slipping from his control, it escapes, leaving Robert Desnos behind. In effect, his vocal chords operate as a regulating mechanism that allows a free flow of voices, images, characters and worlds onto the page before beginning to stutter. The voice repeats itself or interrupts itself. Desnosâ€™s novels can be read as the culmination of automatic writing: a collage of varying speeds. Meanwhile two men are playing chess on a rooftop. The ocean coughs up another mermaid skeleton that begins crawling up the beach, scattering crowds of holidaymakers. The cries of sailors can be heard in the distance. When I reach out to touch the skeletonâ€™s bony hand it disintegrates into a dust cloud that momentarily blurs my vision. The dust settles and I am standing in a desert, the Desert Renaut. After the rumble of traffic fades I can hear only the stretching and vibrating of my own vocal chords resonating a hollow interior across the sand. AndrĂŠ Breton wrote in his 1924 Manifesto of Surrealism: â€œSURREALISM. Pure psychic automatism by which we propose to express either verbally, or in writing, or in any other manner the real functioning of thought. Dictation of thought, in the absence of all control exercised by reason, outside all aesthetic or moral preoccupation.â€? For Desnos, the appeal of automatic writing was not only to throw the mind open to chance. Automatic writing was not just a scientific experiment to discover the secrets of consciousness or operations of the mind but offered access to other selves, other worlds through its transformation of leaden words into golden visions. In 1929, Desnos split with the surrealists over Bretonâ€™s insistence that surrealism should align itself with the Communist Party. The restless voice of Robert Desnos could not be arrested and recuperated for utilitarian ends. In his surrealist manifesto of 1930, Desnos accused Breton of (continued on page 6)
The Age in its Cage
Pasoliniâ€™s Crime Sebastian Gurcillo 1 The Voice of Robert Desnos D.J. Huppatz 2 The Age in its Cage Stephen Rodefer 4 World History Lou Rowan 5 The Prada Meinhof Fraktion Drew Milne 7 The Morality of the Game Thomas Tomorrow 8 6 Dreams Joshua Cohen 9 Intellectual Perverts Peter Minter 10 AD Dennis Cooper Pervateen Six 12 2 Poems Larry Sawyer 5 Poems Guillaume Destot 4 Poems Matthew Wascovich 4 Poems James Hoff
A Social Allegory of Literature and the Deformation of the Canonymous
14 15 16 17 18 19 19
Lab Report Tadeusz PiĂłro The Writing Fritz Widhalm Semen and Marmalade Paul Sohar Oedipus on Melodrama Tadeusz PiĂłro Menudo Louis ArmandB Naked Thought RĂłbert GĂĄlukowskiâ€™s Daughter Remus on Art Uncle Remus From Glocks to Canons McKenzie Wark Ignorance, but no bliss Michaela Howard â€œYield not toâ€? Marowitz on Havel Clare Wallace How I got rid of it Soren Gauger
... PLR ..... Comics by Jeremiah PaleÄ?ek and Emil DoÄ?kal
volume 2 issue 4
PRAGUE LITERARY REVIEW Publisher Editor Guest Editor Associate Editors Assistant Editors Design Technical Support
Roman KratochvĂla Louis Armand Travis Jeppesen AleĹĄ Debeljak, Drew Milne, Howard Sidenberg Clare Wallace, Joshua Cohen lazarus Radim Ĺ evÄ?Ăk
The PLR is published monthly by VrĹĄovickĂ˝ Ezop, o.s., KrymskĂĄ 12, 101 00 Praha 10, Czech Republic. The opinions expressed in these pages are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editor, publisher or advertisers. Contents copyright ÂŠ 2004 the PLR. All rights revert to authors on publication. Please send subscription, advertising, or submission queries to firstname.lastname@example.org, or to the PLR, KrymskĂĄ 12, 101 00 Praha 10, Czech Republic. Tel./Fax: +420 271740839. Copies of the PLR in pdf format are available on request. www.shakes.cz/plr ISSN 121462777
If youâ€™re visible, youâ€™re not a good advance guard. If you become visible, youâ€™re soon dead advance guard. If they see you, they shoot you. And your comrades will have to proceed without the information you were sent out to bring back. What were you tracking, what were you dispatched to scout, before you died? The cannon of the enemy.
Recent reading has included Pierre Bourdieuâ€™s writing around questions of a sociology of judgment, John Guilloryâ€™s investigation of canon spotting, in his book Cultural Capital, noting especially its breakdown of the social institution or SYSTEM we formally call the university, Avital Ronellâ€™s recent ruminations on the subject of stupidity, and Charles Olsonâ€™s â€œLetter to the Melville Society.â€? Someone we know, an avant-garde and experimental writerâ€”well, not really completely avant-garde and experimentalâ€”also, as it happens, the publisher of a well-known but small house of avant-garde and experimental writingâ€”one known to many in this very hall at U Poetry, where there is perhaps more avantgarde and experimental geniusâ€”most of it A.G. & E. they sayâ€”more gathered together at one time since Gertrude Stein introduced Pound to Joyce to Chance, or since Charles Olson, CO2 now as Tom Raworth has observed, danced sitting down at Black Mountain College to some notational stuff put together by Cunningham, Tinker, and Cage. Maybe even, dare we propose, since Thomas Jefferson and Joel Barlow, Sr. sat down to their hasty pudding with Ben Franklin and Robbespierre somewhere outside Paris, before the Tennis Court Oath and way before Napoleon and Napoleon II and all the later Napoleon IIIâ€™s. They called themselves the Anglomaniacs and shared their papers and their smoke, forming the first international, well EuroAmerican at least, group of avant-garde and experimental types ever to have danced sitting down. But I was remembering my acquaintance, the poet and publisher of the A.G. & E., and her press the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, started so that we might have the best shot at getting the ground-breaking position we deserve, to have canonized, as they religiously call it, if only in a small press or university way, our avant-garde and experimental suggestions, conclusions, chapters and verse. We wonâ€™t of course be around to see the stuff really canonized, like at the Vatican, C.A.G.E.â€™d as it were, but maybe our children or our childrenâ€™s children like they say, or those of our friends or of our enemies, or perhaps their children after that, will get to hear about it somewhere ages and ages hence, as is appropriate after all to any Sphinxy utterance. At the last A.G. & E. camp fest we went toâ€” I mean many of us in this bar at U Poetry did go thereâ€”you met the professor who has poets down to her U for drinks and a class visit on a shoe string, i.e. you get 50 bucks and a chance to explode in the air, before her mouth, and she gets an article on how you wrote your Mongolian Notebook or that famous poem in which each line is a mistaken answer to an unasked questionâ€”with the inside story on the avant-garde and experimental parts. You probably know her, she comes to these things from afar sometimes three, four times a year, sometimes twice a month, and even two or three times a week, dangling her absent predicates around you endlessly. The predicate gets forgotten. Well Avital, fuck her, she just lives inside her own head. This work reveals a growing concern over the finite figures who come up and share their experience with us. â€œWell,â€? at the last A.G. & E. things, she announced how she and a colleague (whom she was thinking of marrying after they had cotaught the Pound course so successfully, and J. was going to do the book) and a few othersâ€”she didnâ€™t say friends because there were a couple of the famous Frenchies in the room nearbyâ€”but she and a few of her others, I mean select representations of the Otherâ€” were beginning amongst themselves to ask
around, after, and about the origin of knowledge and what it must now be becoming. It was time to redeconstruct it, or â€œdereconceptualise itâ€? I think was a rival term. What could knowledge signify now, after the collapse of Communism, reaching the end of yet another millennium, in the midst of one of the later stages of advanced capitalism, or perhaps on a seam, and of course before the last American presidential election of the earlier millennium. And so, dixit, here was the frigginâ€™ rubâ€”if knowledge were unspeakably in question, how were they going to carry it off (besides, wasnâ€™t it already in the works at the previous A.G. & E. conference last year at Oconomowoc when the chosen ones had first been tapped, as it were, into the canon?) How, with all of knowledge now in question, could they possibly cement the identification of Bob, Sue, Chas, Mike, and possibly Carolyn as, YOU KNOW, the next inductees, or were they conscripts, at any rate they would be impressed, into the end of the canon. Perhaps you can guess the gender, race, and class here, or should we call it better: sex, colour, and money. It felt like one of the neo, or perhaps even the first of the post-neo, revelations might be at handâ€”one of the most advanced of the penultimate a priori reflections of Platoâ€™s original scrim of the C.A.G.E. forms envisioned, perceived, and projected after he had stopped writing of course; but no matter, he still could give good tongue, or at least good conference. Hadnâ€™t everyone roared at the line Tenure is the Night, and listened enraptured to the paper on the Marginalisation of the A.G. & E. by the new Chair of Creative Writing at P.U.? But the symposia still held sway, and still could, and still would, in their own inimitable, supposedly non sui-generis way. And there was another plenary scheduled later, on the ineluctable modalities of intricacy here. Time for the bar. Can I buy you a drink or do you prefer the cash? This prof held some canon chair of A.G. & E. upholstery, without the requisite start-up nap perhaps, but some funding, i.e. several sacks of beads on the future. Even now, Manhattan could be bought with a surplus of clanking doodads. That was how it went with the A.G. & E., how it had gone before in the great modernist paradigm: you kick in the back door while I knock at the front. Butter reviewers, hire the profs for shills, promising them a new career, and even the nut at U. Dundas will crack. Though, long ago, the ball had already been droppedâ€”Tinkers to Evers to Chanceâ€” and some quick unknown was safe on first. Who was the third baseman fielding beside them, who was the fourth guy crouching always beside them. And whoâ€™s on first. Oh, Mr. Blue, Mr. Pink, Mr. Green, and that Stroffotino dog standing in at the bleeding reservoir of his own talkie. He was so fast at the miles, he probably could steal first. After the extra innings, the scoreboard would show the errors. Anyway, back to the latest box score, some till-then unknownsâ€”except for the cognoscenti who had been sent from their own A.G. & E. departments to cover the storyâ€”were about to get red listed, or red shirted if need be, and the supporting home office, that walking grove of bats, well they were about to bring in and baptize by immersion some new shadows of their own agency. Induct into the inner sanctum of the canon factory, or at least to the edge of one of its outer circles, some of the hottest candidates literally batting away in the C.A.G. & E. And behold, the envelope is opened by a star. The crowd exhales into its peanut mulch, and the pause shines in its own delay. A nonentity, or a new star, or even sometimes an actual entity, if they get lucky, was about to be anointed, just as in Cooperstown, Cleveland, or Hollywood. And but for the jeans and t-shirts replacing the robes, it was the annual, or at least the decadent ceremony of the C.A.G. & E., pushing its little puffs of smoke from the top of St. Peters, disclosing the announcement or election of the latest Pope, marking the figure of the latest naked emperor and her eponymous new clothes. Now she lay before them like a pasha in waiting, or a harem girl with an aura, you couldnâ€™t tell which, the sacred sword of Damocles hanging by a thread over the hot tub of her rewarded butter, about to be dubbed EXCELL, with a slice of the canon on the
weenie brow of the knelt, where were the words, the articles, and the job. It was a little like, in the 19th century, going to one of those annual conferences on the Fireside Poets they used to have down the road here. Regular carriages coming out from Boston, Concord, Lowell, Providence and environs, some of the early shuttles, and if you were lucky (but probably not) someone pretentious (maybe Whitman), or someone slightly slight and pallid (Ms. Dickinson?), or maybe someone slightly unpalatable (POE, comma ED), or I dunno, that grouch back there in the back row (Herman who?) might be in the audience and make an intervention of the panel of Whittier to Holmes to Longfellow, with Doctor Klopstock responding. But check out Holmes’s essay “The Physiology of Versification” as a pretext of Olson’s “Projective Verse.” Cut to a letter addressed to the Harvard English Department/Attention Helen Vendler: “I read in your journal that the Harvard English Department has held a memorial service for Philip Larkin. It might seem churlish to raise any question about this even, since one wants to honour the dead, and Philip Larkin is a good poet, as good as all but the 500 best American poets. “Still, I feel I must have missed the memorial services for Delmore Schwartz, Charles Olson, and Frank O’Hara, all of whom were much better poets than Philip Larkin, and all of whom had long and close connections with Harvard, with which Philip Larkin, so far as I know, had no connection whatsoever. “I can only infer that once again, as in my own time, Harvard has chosen to exhibit elective colonialism: that is, though we won the Revolutionary War, it has chosen to act as though we had lost it. Very sincerely, Albert Cook, class of ‘47” QUESTION: What does canonymisation go against, with, or beyond history? Does anyone care—I mean, besides the boiling shades? It feels as though the colonies had never won the revolution. But now, in the post-colonial arena, they were cunning enough to see the opportunity for a not-so-subtle selective colonization, or perhaps elective colonization, (just to keep the ecclesiastic image) backward toward Engelsland for their now postmodern, post-colonial anti-establishment, or was it antidisestablishment, of the new elective colonialism, as Cook predicted after one of his voyages. It felt as though James, Eliot, Auden (who else?) had just kept the ship of boat people at sea, just off Cape Ann or Fire Island, with those commas, that religiosity, and those Episcopalian cadences of the celebration of dives Yeats missed on 42nd Street (actually predictive of Bill Luoma in its Twinkle Twinkle Little Star delivery, possibly even of J.H. Prynne.) Excelling, lying, Irish vessels all. As though they had sidetracked the founding fathers of the founding fathers of the founding fathers, who had thought about it long ago, for a few modernist generations, thanks also to Mr. Larkin’s billywagging up north in the isle, as well as the latest poet laureate’s supposed stuffing, thirty years ago now, of the next woman without a room, into her gaseous bell-jar near Amherst at the same time. It didn’t help, along the way, that the American A.G. & E. chorus in the 60s, and 70s, inadvertently helped to further this “elective colonization,” and into the bargain douse our knowledge of what was happening in Britian in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, by continuing to mouth: Tom Raworth or Jeremy Prynne are the two to watch in England. Well, watchmen, what of the other knights? This directive came principally from Robert Creeley and the late Ted Berrigan, and was misleading if well-intended, as there was lots else, as we now know. And we might always have, if we had just looked for ourselves. The question is not exactly What is literature, and I would press this notion no matter who was asking that at the other end of the parenthesis of this symposium. IS this note not a bumbling attempt to address from another direction, if not answer directly, such a pro-
found question? But we know what it is: obviously, at the other end of the colon, the remaining cultural material smashed or leaked through the abdominating conduit of constant and everlasting textual poesis—i.e. the real golden shit. Not what is lit?, but whither language? Allen, come out of the bathroom and take your medicine (the A.G., I mean, at the centre of the C.D.) You’re just late 20th century metaphysicals, as R.H. Pearce said to me and Michael Davidson ten years ago. Well, okay, not a bad shot. But I’d rather be an alchemist each morning, turning disc jockeys into books. Not an easy calling, but occasionally a noisy and an exhilarating and a crowded one, with the clinking of ice, laughter, applause, and diversion, and sometimes to the sound of breaking glass and breaking ground on the side. What really more could one want and desire? Let’s not forget to go to bed, or prefer the swimming pool of our daze in the woods to all this. Or are we all just mumbling idiots, too smart to worry that it doesn’t mean anything and too smart to miss that it does. The question might really be: Whither language; or what is literary life? Just yesterday, on the internet, I was shown a publication in which George Bowering or Rachel Loden or both, in a virtual three-way, got to suck the weenie of Charles Bernstein, and by extended fantasy, of Pierre Joris, by impersonating Ann Lauterbach in a wild night at the Ebb Tide Motel somewhere in the Poconos, or was it the Peekskill (Adore Ron Daks?) Now, I’m not against this sort of thing, neither the imagination of it nor the possible behaviour. It’s a bit like Cindy Sherman’s movie stills (never made) without the technique or the sincerity. It’s just amusing drivel. It takes a baby to drool, it takes a poet or a philosopher or just a soft baller to truly drivel. So come outta the W.C.W. (Water Closet plus skirt) Allen and chuck your avant-garde and experimental aspergum. Take that windy organ out of your ass and pump some iron ore there as of yore! This’ll all get decided later. But like babies in the back seat of modernism on our parents’ idea of a vacation, we can’t wait. When do we get there, Pop. Really, we’re just the bodies. The plan is the body, thanks a lot. Our only function, besides dreaming, is to maintain desire, to keep the poetic function functioning. TO WRITE what we take to our lids and spectacles and to find what remains to be seen there. To remain outside the realm of any central or centralizing discourse, that’s the only job for a writer. The rest (the dross and endurances) will be disclosed later, then reconfigured later still. That way, as the shootist said a long time ago, it will become clear whether one has written one’s own writing or merely practiced perseveringly in the art. There is the ever tinkering chance, the repressed ecstasy made real, to embody liberty, equivalence, and fragility, which no office mate can convert to canon fodder with a false alchemy—meretricious, vulgar, nugatory, and jejune. This world is full of writers whose main idea of what to do with the act of writing is to sell it or get it noticed. Instead of unbuckling to the private prepossession of an expanding or a shrinking universe, which then is made public. That is the only fit aspect of the real job. That and to deny, deny absolutely, along the way, the traditional hi-ho American pragmatism which masks the basic xenophobia and chauvinism of the race. The reason there is so much second-rate poetry around is simply that it’s so damned hard to write it well, as Steve Farmer ad-libbed, brilliantly on target and startling the entire room of new coasters at NYU in March of 96, with the shocking obviousness of his observation. My acquaintance, the publisher of avantgarde and experimental writing, most of it C.A.G. & E., generally asks her authors to fork up a few hundred or sometimes more, for the colour cover or the special paper, or the extra signature the wide leading you insist on leads to—or really just because the NEA’s gone on the house payments or the car. But one feels, you know, that’s nearly always been this way. Still, it’s a cautionary tale. (continued on page 6)
World History (from My Last Days) I report metropolitan politics for the Daily World, one of the prestige properties of Rupert Murd’s World Enterprises Plc, known everywhere as WE. Many distinguished newspapers contributed to New York City’s history, and it was a climax of this illustrious tradition when Mr. Murd purchased the New York Times and its affiliated enterprises in 2001, completing his consolidation of New York journalism under The World. He said, “This is the crown jewel in my Global Info empire. I am humble but proud to have purchased this piece of history. I will treat it with the respect it deserves.” Since that deal, New York City’s print journalism has spoken with one authoritative voice; the citizens of the metropolis know what they should know. The Daily World has incorporated the hallowed motto, “All the news that’s fit to print,” and made it reality, thanks to Murd. WE’s empire, the earth’s largest in market capitalization, is divided into three global business lines: Information, Entertainment, and Technology. Global World Information encompasses book, newspaper and magazine publishing, both physical and online. It manages chains of private and semi-private schools, and all materials related to scholastic enterprises. We are grateful to our trusted consultant Michael Milkem, who guides and inspires us to wring profits from education. Our Milkem Colleges of Free Enterprise are crucial to building the business and political leadership of the future. These collegiate cash cows, campuses thriving in every Fully-Developed U.S. economic zone, invest primarily in and focus their management talent on their sports programs and complexes—creating motivated, competitive cadres of alumni donors and assuring a stream of profits we capitalize into ever-more aggressive plant-and-capacity-expansion programs. Many an MCFE dissertation or faculty research project germinates a successful product or department at Global Info or WE GTech. I flew the gilded steel M to the crown of the arch atop the Cathedral Parkway entrance to the state-of-the-art Milkem Wing of the Columbia School of Anatomical Cosmetology that replaced Morningside Park in 2003, where within months of its heralded opening the brave entrepreneur himself underwent the heralded premier total pelvic replacement, a procedure now so widely-accepted and profitable that persons of means eagerly sign onto our threeyear waiting list, paying a six-figure retainer for the privilege. Cameras in the OR recorded the complex procedure step-by-step, to a breathless world, filling us in on the illustrious deeds of Mr. Milkem, and revealing the identity of the anonymous donor, a male dancer at Chippendales who, after his conversion to The Righteous Church of God, decided to eliminate temptation by downscaling his charms. Our educational plants enjoy tax-favored status, thanks to the landmark opinion legal scholars agree is the crowning achievement of the Reintwist Supreme Court, in Palo Alto Public Schools vs. Milkem & Milkem. Global Entertainment includes all consumer media—museums, theme parks, newscasts, global historic sites, national parks, movies, television, plays, financial bulletins, rock concerts, and music—plus online and virtuallyreal versions of each. Disney Enterprises, acquired in 2001, accounts for 73% of the ebitda of this Division, and attaching the Disney name to a laggard national park or a risky play assures its success. Consumers, especially those in Fully-Developed or Pre-Conditional economic zones, know they can trust products backed by an authentic blue WE Disney label to provide wholesome, satisfying stimulation. Global Entertainment managed our bookpublishing portfolio until the education-business in Global Info took off, and Murd and Milkem grabbed immediately for the potent synergies inherent in schoolroom texts as brand-loyalty builders, deploying content management and advertising to instill permanent positive responses to WE in young minds. WE GTech is led by the dynamic Rick Hussell, scion of New York’s dominant political dynasty. The financial media predicts Rick and Cherry will duke it out to succeed Murd. Rick’s
major impact on WE has been through the CSC, the Content Synchronization Committee, a state-of-the art digital war-room that monitors all WE content to assure its consistency with our sponsors’ advertising messages. WE GTech is a profit center, franchising its knowledge, applications, codes, and equipment worldwide to governments and businesses whose survival and prosperity it is our mission to assure. GTech’s motto captures our tight alignment with our clients: Make your problems ours. GTech combines consulting with hardware and software, Murd having bought the Anderson and McKinsey consulting empires for use as facilitators when he acquired IBM, Apple, Compaq and the remnants of the Baby Bells in 2002. GTech consults with Macrosoft, but Bill Grates and Rupert Murd, during their historic televised bargaining session assembled in 2003 at Camp David by President Borebush, facilitated by Henry Kissinger and 11 Nobel Laureates in Economics, known popularly as the “Big 12” and called by The
and inspired by our leader’s vision. To Rupert Murd it is no surprise that the largest enterprise on the planet is ruled by an Australian whose fortune became a potent capitalist force in Great Britain: “Capitalism is transnational. I call it ‘enterprise unbound,’” he likes to say. And he’ll add with that famous glint in his hawk eyes, “After all, Adam Smith and Malthus were Brits. The sun never set on our empire.” World Enterprises cooperates with government at all levels. Suffering entrepreneurs no longer feel shackled, abused and depleted by insensitive bureaucrats and by paper. The end to the tension between business and government was heralded by President Borebush, as he pledged during his historic acceptance speech at the Millennial Democratic convention: “My work over the last 8 years to streamline and downsize government may have gone unnoticed. Many in fact have called it boring. But let me tell you my friends, it has paved the high road to an action that I will initialize within an hour of waking up after my Inaugural
Michael Sheldon, Lois Lane Travel, 2002
Daily World, “conceivably the most distinguished deliberative body assembled in recorded history,” hammered out a Chinese Wall assuring they will remain relentless but respectful competitors. They pledged to observe the spirit and the letter of the Pro-Trust Laws of 2001 crafted by the President to assure global competition and the final triumph of free enterprise. Murd and Grates waged thrilling biddingwars for the Louvre, the Forbidden City, and many other historic properties, illustrating the President’s wisdom, and riveting the consumer public’s attention. I was downcast when Grates won the Louvre by promising Paris and the Sorbonne exclusive rights to all improvements, upgrades, and trans-media reproductions of its contents, as well as insider access to the Bettman archive and monumental donations to their endowments; but when I flew Lois on an island-hopping jaunt across the Pacific to cover and celebrate Murd’s victorious re-opening of the Forbidden City as a Disney Historic Theme Park, complete with the friendly Chinese dragon-characters Chow Mick and Chow Min, I was once again amazed
Ball, should I be so blessed by you our wonderful people, and I just feel I will with your help and God’s and Tupper-Ann’s—I will labor unrelentingly and unremittingly with both Houses of Congress to abolish the Internal Revenue Service, replacing it with a simple collection service through your local bank of choice, and I will enact one simple flat tax for all enterprises and individuals, reserving the complexities of credits and deductions for corporate legal departments where they belong, not on the shoulders of the striving middle classes that make this nation strong and vibrant. “No more will a federal Big Brother come between Americans and their precious dollars. I have cut that federal Big Brother Bully down to size, with my quiet, thankless, unappreciated but relentless Streamlining Initiative. I know all that Big Bully’s Tricks! He can’t escape Al Borebush, folks, oh no no he can’t! “Our engines of wealth drive us down the information superhighway at mach speed and warp torque to be the great people and nation we can be in the new millennium. Let us go forth around the globe now and forever, let us all be all we can be!”
That statesmanlike masterstroke of compromise with the deep principles of the Republican opposition assured the President’s overwhelming victory, for our hearts and minds were captured by a politician who could stand up and prevent politics from clogging the engines of free enterprise. His surprise opponent, Strom DeLye—the only Republican running in the primaries with legal aliens as nannies, a spotless sexual and substance history, a mammoth PAC, a sincere enthusiasm for gun-owners, and strong evangelical Christian credentials for office—made eloquent denunciations of the many left-wing homosexuals who advised Mr. Borebush. But all pundits and the polls and at times even DeLye himself acknowledged that Borebush and his handlers and pollsters had executed a compromise coup assuring the overwhelming stream of contributions leading to his election and re-election. Mr. DeLye sits on the Board of Directors of WE, an historic first by a former Speaker of the House, wrought by the Pro-Trust and the Tax Renewal Acts of 2001, which he and the President crafted and enacted with only one dissenting vote in both houses—a gay labor sympathizer sent to richly-deserved retirement in the 2002 primaries. DeLye was there when the President signed the Acts with 30 pens, symbolizing his prediction that the Dow Jones Average would never again drop. During the ceremony Borebush amazed the press with his fluent grasp of economics and finance, asking a triumphant Milton Friedman whether the current equity markets demonstrated a classic head-and-shoulders chart pattern, and nodding with informed concern when Friedman assured him that the only danger to our prosperity is rising wages, goad the Fed to be vigilant lest labor advances destroy our hard-won prosperity. The President’s invitation to Friedman was a sign of his magnanimity: his aides had lobbied to make him Time’s Man of the Year, but the designation went to the economist who has captured best the spirit of our free-market age—a spirit synthesized and powerfully distilled in the global broadcast of his triumphant Gifford/Pinochet Lecture series at Harvard University. Rupert Murd assures the harmonious global cooperation of his enterprises with national, state and local governments by hiring qualified former politicians, civil servants, diplomats, generals, and colonels into WE Corporate Public Relations, run as a profit center by Cherry. Many of these officials assisted our aggressive public-sector acquisition program: Murd pounced on government entities unable to cope with the streamlining and shrinkage dictated by tax and revenue revolution the President unleashed. When waves of urban and rural public schools closed, he stepped in to make selective acquisitions of their plants, equipment and labor for the Milkem-led ed groups. When public parks deteriorated, he snapped them up as building-sites for GTech, or invested his private wealth developing them with Donald Von Umph. Global Entertainment profited from the Acts: Murd’s first coup was his purchase in 2002 of two miles of the Passaic River, the Falls, and the moldering remnants of Alexander Hamilton’s enterprises from the bankruptcy trustees of Paterson, New Jersey. Few analysts believed that this neglected American landscape and enterprise could turn a juicy profit as the Epic Urban Theme Park, capitalizing on a new nostalgia in suburbia for our cities, a nostalgia as lucrative for WE as our devotion to the Wild West. The main attraction is a three-dimensional urban gang violence and school terrorism ride, presented in a tasteful environment demonstrating moral lessons to children and adolescents. The Hamilton-Burr duel ride, featuring virtual renditions of Burr’s many glamorous conquests, is number two. The Paterson Falls, colorized day and night by lasers and Jerseymade dyes, an easy drive from all eastern demographic concentrations, has all but eclipsed rival Niagara Falls (owned by a downsized but still-feisty Sony) as an attraction for lovers and tourists Murd’s choice of New Jersey for investment was serendipitous, for a bipartisan flood of that state’s politicians proposed a creative medley of money-making schemes to WE PR. Soon
public figures from across the country and around the globe joined these New Jersey pioneers in presenting projects and resumes. WE PR has been the subject of many businessschool case studies. Like our academic departments, it serves as a cutting-edge research function, bubbling up a constant stream of entrepreneurial creativity. For in the new paradigm of the Information Millennium, the focus of modern enterprise cannot be solely or even primarily to develop new markets, but to refresh the appetites of consumers in existing markets. Murd’s harnessing pr as his engine of growth is his deepest insight into how to make vast corporate empires ever-vaster. The WE braintrust recognises three global stages of consumer development: Emerging Markets (like East Timor or the South Bronx, which we leave to small local businesses we monitor as takeover opportunities), Pre-Conditional (like Akron or urban Mexico, into which we place our basic product-set), and Fully-Developed (like Manhattan, Shaker Heights or Hong Kong, towards which we direct the full force of our communications resources, and to which we sell our upscale product-sets). The Fully-Developed consumer’s appetite for products is infinite. Marketing theorists who postulate “saturated” or “mature” markets are ignorant of human psychology in the English-speaking world. WE’s final epochal marketing coups were creatures of crisis. One Friday at the height of the electoral season of 2000, Murd was subjected to a series of grueling hearings by reformers of the left and right: Republicans suspicious of foreigners, Democrats suspicious of global employers targeted this Australian magnate living on a Hollywood hill with his young Asian consort—timing their hot verbal probes for maximum exposure on the weekend news packages. That evening in his suite at the Haye-Watney, grasping a cut-glass tumbler of his private-reserve aged and bonded single-malt Glumliver, Rupert Murd exploded at his quaking braintrust, “Blast this bloody nonsense! I own these bitches and bastards. Every one of those pigs swills from my PAC. I don’t take this crap from my staff; why should these candy-asses be any different? I’ll show these flatulent hogs who’s boss.” And so he bought the ten largest lobbying law firms on K Street. The American Bar Association’s rigorous code of ethics limited his position in each firm to 41%, and the Association required that Murd decree an insurmountable Chinese Wall between WE Legal and the tripartite WE Corporate—a decree with which Murd was eager to cooperate, for it assured that WE Corporate’s deliberations could remain privileged. After this stunning coup, Rupert Murd owned a controlling interest in the retired lawmakers, regulators and military heroes of Washington, and a controlling influence on the active dignitaries. Finally, he bought Ovid and Gaffem Ltd., the prestigious agency contracting for the speaking-tours, autobiographies, movies and media bookings of public figures. Privately, Murd indulges in Down-Under humor, referring to his dealings with the political world as “getting into my pimp-mobile.” He enjoys negotiating contracts with statesmen personally. During his first session with George Bush, who was eager to upgrade his fees for speaking in Asia on behalf of the Reverend Moon from six to seven figures like Ronald Reagan’s, he puzzled the Yale-educated Texan by calling him “Shagpoke.” Leaks of the session caused consternation in Bush’s former home, the CIA, which frantically searched its records lest Murd was exposing the code name for ethnic cleansing operations in El Salvador, Guatemala and Panama. WE’s dynamism has caused social as well as business and political revolutions. The traditional cream of the social crop hesitated to embrace MAMA, Cherry’s revolutionary contribution to the fine arts sector. Town and Country devoted and entire issue to the questions of status it raises, and to the agonizing reappraisals of traditional artwork portfolios it wrought. Some of the nation’s toniest families were obliged by their traditions and values to join, with a sad sent of another fin-de-siecle, the
well-chronicled “Flight to Opera.” Rococo, the sensitive scion of the refinery Blotter dynasty of Manhattan and Texas, penned in response a phillipic to the T&C editor, quoted repeatedly in the media and in God’s Club, essays on golf and life by John Upright: What has this world come to when a Monet is no longer a Monet, a man a man, and a woman a woman? We Botters uphold know standards in clubs, schools, viewpoints, neighborhoods, foreign countries, people, islands, habits. We’ve taken on the burden, worthily we trust, to uphold certain standards. If what we’ve valued is broadcast, nay, noised abroad willy-nilly, we must abdicate—and we cannot answer for the consequences to society. Master marketer that she is, Cherry welcomed the brouhaha, pointing out that the traditional American aristocracy became useless when the Cold War ended: “A society no longer under attack needs no white knights from Yale and the CIA to go on crusades.” Murd, whose tastes run to sentimental Irish ballads and Cole Porter, finds the Fight to Opera piquant. Applicants for coveted diplomatic postings are now forced to prove their mettle by enduring the Ring Cycle and writing detailed memos on its performance. He is confident and serene in the face of the righteous liberals who lament his merger of government, the special interests, and the Third Estate. During his famous “Sixty Minutes” profile, he told an indignant but charmed Leslie Stale, “Now Leslie, take a look at the facts. The dollarvote ratio is way north of a thousand-to-one, way north. The marginal votes we’re after, that is, the winning votes, cost at least that. Add up the expenses: politicians’ salaries while they run (and that’s what they do, Leslie), media consultants’ fees (way up there, I know, heh-heh), early and mid-campaign media buys, polling and focus-group operations and staffing, traditional campaign staffing and materials, T&E, cash for miscellaneous persuasive payments (you like the way I put that, Leslie, you see I’m not such a foreign barbarian), and, most important of all, tactical overbudget media attacks and counter-attacks on the eve of the vote leading to campaign deficits that cause the leaders to go back to the trough as soon as they’re elected, or to become lobbyists if they lose. “Joe Voter hasn’t got the kind of economic horsepower that can buy those marginal votes—I do. I have an enterprise to protect; thousands, hundreds of thousands of people around the globe depend on WE. I provide and protect their livelihoods. Why should I let the future of WE be blown around by political winds—please note, Leslie, I did not say windbags.” (Camera zooming in on his famous poker-faced twinkle.) “What I do is more important than what any politician does. Business leaders are global; politicians are national. Why shouldn’t I have a say while they’re in office, and why shouldn’t I reward them when their race is run and they’ve hung it up from fighting the good fight?”
The Prada Meinhof Fraktion Happenings After many years of frustration and film work he sought refuge in a tax haven in some imperial resort called, of all things, Sunshine City. It gummed up his postbag for a few weeks, but it was too good to miss, and hope sprang diurnal that weather and society might conspire to recall the good times of his youth. In a supreme effort to recover his losses he had put everything into his latest performance piece and his labours had paid off. It was a roaring success. During rehearsals, a rather strident young thing who was still working her way towards a union card and who was rather too accustomed to playing feminine bit parts, was reluctant to accept his direction to play it tougher. If I do, she opined, the audience won’t like me. You cut up a baby and they’ll still love you, he retorted. Box office receipts had the last laugh. Elsewhere there were signs that
the mainstream audience were set once again to chain themselves to kitchen sink docu-soaps if they weren’t given musicals. The romance and sophistication of his assemblages appeared doomed to years of oblivion until the fickle arts lobby were back in the foyer begging for more. It seemed like the ideal opportunity to go fallow. He even toyed with a novel. But he was too sensitive to the stings of contemptuous co-workers ringing in his ears and the regime of daily word-counts upset his circadian rhythms. So he settled in for the bumpy ride of personal appearances and electronic conferences on what they were now calling the discourse of performativity while the advances rolled in from film companies. Once settled into Sunshine City he came up with a bizarre idea for a hospital farce in which he would perform as both the surgeon and the patient. For a while he could be found quizzing the local doctor in her favourite wine bar about the potential complications associated with appendicitis. The sweet young doctor basked in the prospect of lucrative consultancies that might accrue from such contact, but the project was dropped when the full absurdity of the event became apparent to him. When a bunch of lawyers flew in to renegotiate the film rights, he gave what many who knew him regarded as his finest performance in situationist comedy, all captured on film by his latest male companion. The irony of their combined allegorical
imaginations was lost on the distributors, however, and the resulting footage was never properly shown. Irony came full circle when he realised that this would end up as his most fully documented work, given the combination of video technology and the detailed records kept by all the legal teams. If he could get all the evidence performed in court it might yet impress those boys from Fluxus who always accused him of ducking the logic of spectacle as legalised pornography. If all else failed there might be a job in it somehow, somewhere, something to show a bunch of college kids.
The Muggletonian Reading Room By anyone’s standards it was an extraordinary state of affairs to be in. Now that a moment of reckoning had arrived, there were signs of cracks that could split the organisation. Old friends had long suffered their intellectual differences for the greater good. Now they found themselves teamed up with those whose society they had previously tolerated only with a discernible screwing up of the nose. But connections had to be forged to survive what some old supporter of the co-operative approach had called the threat of de-mutualisation. The problem lay in the robust terms of the constitution, designed as it was to prevent hi-jacking by zealots while allowing room for censure and removal from the more important offices. Of course the suspicion of entryism went deeper than the respect for external developments, and the slow corruption of the selection procedure was an open secret. Comparisons could be drawn with the American constitution, often cited as a standard before intellectual gridlock had revealed the flaws in federalism. For many among us the stakes were higher even than those suggested by the failure of their congress to ratify the comprehensive ban on nuclear testing. At issue was the very future of the humane sciences. The consequences of that went beyond the blind opportunism of career politicians. If anything our sense of history was greater, not least our need to root our practice in history. This gave our proceedings a medieval and byzantine feel, partly because the lines of discourse went along deep lines of moral disquietude. The underlying assumptions were either too metaphysical or too revolutionary to bear the burden of analysis. This functioned as a large sign saying, Silence! readers at work. It was as if the big questions could not be asked. To do so might reveal the extent to which no-one really believed in the feudal hierarchy which protected the weak from the strong. Something like a practice of ethical scorn has arisen to deflate anyone rash enough to talk about theory. Even to say as much is to stand accused of a subtle heresy of attitude. This crisis of confidence could be traced back to the organisation’s formation. The early combination of science and humanism had indeed broken free of the prevailing currents of cultural relativism and hermeneutic conservation. There was widespread agreement that no-one in their right mind would wish a return to the approach that declared that dinosaurs had been placed deep in rock formations by a jealous God who anticipated the need, come the discovery of fossils, to pit man’s faith against the tree of knowledge. That genre of symbol searching had gone the way of hunter-gathering. There was no room for creationism in our midst, and the early curriculum had seen to it that dogmatism was in diverse contestation with the historical record to ensure the highest scientific standards of verification and interpretation. Somewhere along the line, however, we’d lost sight of the wider picture and forgotten to renew this innovative contract with the common reader.
“Pasolini’s Crime” (from page 1) take into consideration. Journalist: Fourth and last question: what is your opinion . . . of our great Federico Fellini? Director: He dances . . . he dances!
La ricotta resulted first in a trial and then in a four month suspended prison sentence for Pasolini. “I still can’t say exactly why they tried me at all, but it was a terrible period for me. I was slandered week after week, and for two or three years I lived under a kind of unimaginable persecution.” The “clerical-fascist” state, as Pasolini came to term the political regime that ruled post-war Italy, ostensibly reacted to the blasphemous depictions. Could it be that it missed the point of this short film, that it was not so much a denigration of the Christian faith as an exposé of consumerist denigration in contemporary culture? “Woe to him who doesn’t know/ this Christian faith is bourgeois,/ in every privilege, every rendering,/ every servitude; that sin is/ only a crime against offended/ daily certitude, is hated because of/ fear and sterility; that the Church/ is the merciless heart of the State.” In the years leading up to his murder in November 1975, Pasolini lashed out against the omnipotent Democratic-Christian regime that had dominated post-war Italian politics. Long before the obscure web of corruption and organised crime that sustained the regime became the quotidian political spectacle of the early 90s, Pasolini was asking the questions others feared to ask. Delirious and reckless, he asked them on the front page of Italy’s most influential and widely read newspaper, Corriere della Sera: “I know the names of those who, between one mass and the next, made provision and guaranteed political protection … I know all these names and all the acts (the slaughters, the attacks on institutions) they have been guilty of …” At that time there was no proof, not even a clue, that Pasolini could muster for his case. Instead he claimed the artist’s prerogative of an imaginative statement of political reality: “I know because I am a writer and an intellectual who tries to follow what goes on, to imagine what is known and what is kept quiet, who pieces together the disorganised fragments of a whole and coherent political picture, who restores logic where arbitrariness, mystery and madness seem to prevail.” First question: Was it a political assassination or just a cheap street murder? It could just be a street murder, something that stupid and thoughtless, that takes away my life: despite what your parents taught you when you were a kid, there’s no reason anything should be a certain way in our lives; as far as you’re concerned there’s no reason why you should get anything good. Justice is our leader’s hype. No reason for you or anyone else to have any preconception whatsoever. You will get used to this, and if you don’t you will surely perish all the sooner. Part of the evidence suggested something even more sinister, that there had been others involved in the murder. For some unknown reason this evidence was dismissed. Maybe the judge was in his right mind, for the chances were that had he decided otherwise he would have become yet another prominent corpse. When I, Pasolini, was murdered, I was perhaps out of my right mind. I had just finished making Salo, a film that sought to realise a new extremism in art, a film that even the broadest minds would have difficulty with. In Salo human male sexual desires, especially homosexual and sadistic, are raised both within the movie and in the movie’s audience at the same time that I’m showing the close connections between these desires and fascism. Because the state’s now fascistic, sexual desire is totally reasonable that is separate from caring. This is great for a pornographer to say. The extremity of Salo is sometimes mistaken as straightforward pornography. The use of pornographic elements is primary to Pasolini’s attempt to create unwatchable cinema, a film that could not be consumed, let alone digested. It is only those who are insensitive to the subtleties being expressed through the extreme depictions who condemn the film as yet a further example of a kind of libertarian excess inimicable to the moral fibre of society. It is quite likely that Pasolini was aware that Salo
was the kind of film that courted this kind of marginalisation, that this kind of marginalisation, that the misanthropic universe that emanates from it with so much formal precision sets the film up as the product of a passionate but deluded mind. From this place of extreme opposition, Pasolini challenges contemporary political discourse to break out of its cycle of repetition whereby it can offer nothing more than predictable and irrelevant responses to outrageous transgressions. We are gathered before the mansion where the crimes against our youth will be committed. The grotesque figures of our immanent oppression are informing us of our fate from the balcony. We have been gathered here for the vile rituals which will constitute the amusement of our captors. There is no escape, we are told. We must do as they say, eat shit when they say, submit to sodomy on command, and in the end we will be rewarded by being scalped in the courtyard, bound spread-eagled to steaks on the ground, and fucked yet again. Why should this depiction be allowed to exist, this slander against right-thinking folk, this terrible provocation against community standards, this crude analogy of sadism and fascism? The cruel fascists are extremists, but more precisely they are extreme depictions. They are not so much figures from the past as hyperbolic figurations of a present danger. Though this danger received its particular context in the extreme political climate of Pasolini’s Italy, it continues to be re-enacted in other locales in the vast conspiracy of subterranean forces that is neocapitalism. Marxism is long dead but neocapitalism lives ferociously in a new and malevolent silence that denies all alternatives. If we were allowed the license of an ideal abstraction, one could imagine a conspiracy of pale criminals, neo-capitalists, whose ultimate intent is the dumbing-down of the populace, perhaps by restricting them to a modest dose of biblical instruction but more likely through a superabundance of shit broadcast into their homes. They could manufacture themselves as pious citizens intent on maintaining moral fibre, cocooning themselves within a hazy glow of ignorant rectitude. These ideal figures, who obviously don’t exist in real life, could thereby continue their other activities, perhaps over time convincing even themselves with the flimsiest semblance of a clear conscience. What OTHER ACTIVITIES? CRIME! Of course these people don’t exist, nor does the conspiracy, and perhaps that makes for a massive delusion. There is no alternative but to bow and be reasonable. Crime, if it exists, is under control, criminals, if they exist, are being punished. All is as it should be. We can sleep. “The Voice of Robert Desnos” (from page 1)
being an authoritarian puritan, long on mystical rhetoric but short on revolutionary action. Torrents of water poured over the side of the ship while he scrambled for his glasses to see perhaps his final moments, but instead of being washed overboard he was taken by the wind, scooped up and tossed over the mast onto the rainbow which formed a path in the sky. Below, the ocean was a rocking surface of flailing limbs. I could hear the voice again, more, a constellation of voices, the ocean trembling with noise competing for my attention. The crowd were speaking, shouting, crying. When I tried to speak, I could only repeat what I’d heard. Twilight. An incoherent voice. Flows of desire do not take rational paths. Indeed, Desnos could master words (“words are our slaves”), even transform and master reality through words, but in the end he could not master desire. His novel Liberty or Love! was dedicated to actress and singer Yvonne George, who was the obsessive object of his desire for some years. She is the ever-elusive, mythological heroine who haunts Desnos’s surrealist works. She is l’étoile de mer, star of the sea. She picks up her coat to leave. I, Robert Desnos, am not dead. The one I love does not hear me. I have dreamed of you so much you lose your reality. A voice begins to speak, I can’t hear it but I can feel its soft trembling.
“The Age in its Cage”
The Morality Of The Game
(from page 2)
I feel like IKE, warning the post-McCarthy era of the military-industrial complex. Is there an academic-literary complex equivalent, or at least similar, to that? Why are we not more uneasy with this cozy arrangement? Because it’s bringing in money, jobs, new careers. If there were something like an academicliterary complex, as intertwined, devious, and enduring as its Eisenhowerizer paradigm, does it not threaten to extend or intrude even here, especially here, where we are now, at the NEC, in the central strategy and planning room, where the plan to become more accessible and to unveil new forms is roughly the equivalent of Pentagon planning and smart, heat-seeking missiles, the power figures and their lackeys and aspirants standing around in casual dress at the midnight-swim cash bar of their own Bohemian Grove, bartering the unrefurbished prices for the arms of the latest writing? OR variously: are we not treading precariously close to a kind of Vanity Fair? Is most A.G. & E. writing not tending comically—or is it cynically—close to Vanity Lit, somewhere between cottage industry, forced feeding, and Nobel literature? For what other art or group, except lobbyists, politicians, stars, and Bohemian Grovers, what community can you imagine of graphic artists, musicians, dancers, or other virtual manoeuvrers except this self-anointed elect the Avant-Garde, could get so many applicants to cough up $500 to $1,800 to gather four days in the Acorn or the Woods, at the new NEC, close to the sea and the bar, in case the panels are boring, to mull over their overlooked importance and now happily recuperated community, and unveil the new hardware. The security people and the young recruits, the minions and their myrmidons, tell me of the move afoot to get Allen Ginsberg, now dead, the Nobel, though he may not have written anything really A.G. & E. since “Wales Visitation,” a great straight-ahead old-fashioned poem. Nobel literature, is that not what we must strive to subvert? In the U.S., what is it potentially? Joyce Carol Oates at worst. Paul Auster? Well, we abjure Nobel literature. Belief is at its nadir discount at the end of this perhaps last of all literary centuries. It is not even ours, but it is—still—since we were its, before it was the end. QUOTE: “This is the 21st book of Denise Levertov published by New Directions.” One more, I guess, than the number of centuries since Jesus knows. WELL, what can you say to that? The first four were great. $1500 or 1000 pounds for three days of company—not a bad deal if you can get it, or think of it as a concentrated vacation. Of course, with a habit, for community, that would be about half a million a year. Time to win the U.S. Open or get appointed to the Barbra Streisand Chair of Creative Writing at Stanford. Oh well, why not. Life is a waste of money anyway. Might as well spend it at some Vanity Fair. As Rod Mengham said to me at the bar, if you’ve got it, spend it, if you don’t—spend it. That seems to me what we’re doing here this weekend, this year, this life. And may we all live forever or anon, and be published and read after we die. Better read than dead, but best, dead and read. It’s all a fairly good malicious joke. The plan is the body, thanks a lot—both our own and the “body of work.” On both accounts, thanks a lot. To recoin Pierre Alferi’s elective gillette version of Papa Ockham’s razor, is it perhaps not time at last to multiply the essential once more, out of necessity? So that we need never settle for the inessential again? As Edouard, Fran, and Gustaf get canned, explode, thrash the coast, or peter out in their oceanic turbulence, inevitably, scandalously, but somehow honourably, like Beckett’s goal—to fail better—the only path for a writer is to write beyond the Age, the cage of the avant-garde, and the anonymity of the premature canon. Live free and die. Publish and perish.
Perhaps this is where we shall still discover the realm of our invention, that realm in which we, too, can be original, say, as parodists of world history and God’s buffoons—perhaps, even if nothing else today has any future, our laughter may yet have a future. —Friedrich Nietzsche, Our Virtues
Robert Gál’s Signs & Symptoms (Prague: Twisted Spoon Press, 2003) is the kind of book one might find near, next to, or between the philosophy and poetry sections of a secondhand bookshop on a planet similar to Earth. Determining that location is not easy for as one reviewer notes, “Gál favours the prose style of the condensed crystal, of compacted utterances that reflect light without revealing its source.” All of which is to say, nothing is certain about this Kafkaesque book. Signs & Symptoms consists of aphorisms and philosophical thought-fragments. To entice readers in, black and white photographs of a naked woman, shot from varying angles, by Slovak photographer Lucia Nimcová, accompany the text. The work seems to be the artful confessions of a neurotic. Aphorisms such as “death does not die,” “anxiety is what remains repressed when inhaling and exhaling” and “the only sincere pity is self-pity” (p. 12, 19) leap off the page with a welcoming thud. The fragments meditate on existential themes yet read suspiciously like the musings of someone’s diary, using terms like “truth” and “reality” as if self-evident or italicising passages whose significance is lost on the reader. The alienation of thinkers is, indeed, a terrible thing. As Gál writes, “The truth does not persuade” (p. 10), hinting at how difficult it is for other people’s pain to be taken seriously. Welcome to Planet Gál. The austere style of the book may be confusing for some readers. The reflections are highly personal yet elusive and, by equal turns, earnest, provocative and insightful, interspersed with odd sounds of maniacal laughter. After a while, a recycled quality emerges in the obsessive reflections. The reader recognises occasional echoes of thoughts culled from, perhaps, hours of reading in smoky cafes, browsing through antikvariats, or scribbled notes from philosophy lectures in Bratislava. The smell of the ready-made, the second-hand, the necrophiliac, lurks in the darkness, whiffing of damnation and mental institutions. Yet there is a theatrical quality in these reflections that suggest something else is going on. Gál uses paradox and cryptic statements to attack and undermine certainty, stating in the opening fragment: “He chose the difficult way …” A question or an answer? By questioning certainty we do not make it easier on ourselves. Since the question intentionally discharges the answer, we are no longer aware of what is certain. Certainty is in fact a latent symptom of a basic inability to grasp what this conception might have difficulty unmasking (p. 29).
Paranoid readers instinctively recognise they are on alien territory, sinking into murky depths of something beyond their ken. If certainty is symptomatic of stupidity, awareness lies in reading the signs anxiously. Gál is a clever manipulator and megalomaniac, but he was generous enough to leave hints behind. Much work is spared by going directly to the end and reading the author’s comments where the text is described as a continual balancing act between stating and performing, shedding light on the book. Gál is holding an inner conversation with himself while “performing” for the reader, explaining odd fragments such as, “Pondering any actual difference between a Platonic Academy … and a nuthouse” (p. 37), or, “The arena barks” (p. 73), where he speaks to himself while taking a dig at an uncomprehending audience. Jane Bennett, a professor of contemporary political science at John Hopkins University, was puzzled by this last one, writing in her review: Some examples here, idiosyncratic perhaps to this reader, include: “The arena barks.” Why restrict speech to humans or even communicative powers to animals?
A hysterically funny game seems to be played where the question of Gál’s sanity, and the fate of his book, is left up to the reader to judge. The Blind Date The obsessive aura of Signs & Symptoms comes across most strongly in the black and white photographs, like documentation of a scene of a crime. The back cover flap describes the book as a mysterious “exploration of tenuous identity, a philosophical denuding, complemented by the photographs of Lucia Nimcová.” Gál offers assistance: The photographs are naturally illustrations, expressing the nature of a process from “the other side.” As if an inner eye that perceives rather than sees, later, when the means are available, it is able to “capture” its perspective, in the form of photographs for example. Regarding the direct relationship between text and photographs, it is metaphoric in the sense that it represents two poles of one and the same thing, which is, I will not deny it, the relationship between a man and a woman, in this case not exactly harmonious (p. 82).
At length his eyesight begins to fail, and he does not know whether his eyes are only deceiving him. Yet in his darkness he is now aware of a radiance that streams inextinguishably from the gateway of the Law.
The radiance is seen only when the seeker’s eyesight begins to fail, when his certainty begins to die. Gál’s gaze is pointed toward the text itself, as if signalling the reader to take another look, and another, and another. Whether intentional or not, the tableau captures the deceptive irony of Signs & Symptoms: the reader looks at Gál, who gazes at an unseen object, which mirrors back the reader’s assumptions like a series of self-portraits. As he hints early on, “He who seeks, shall be found out” (p. 15).
The Doorkeeper Much more is going on than just perverse mirror play. Gál’s reflections circle around questions of identity and certainty, playing with assumptions between reader and author, subject and object, self and Other. There is a labyrinthine structure to his madness: Epigraffiti, “In this case not exactly harmonious” is a load- consisting of three subsections of aphorisms; ed phrase. The woman’s body, seen from var- Signs & Symptoms, consisting of four subsecious angles, is Gál’s former girlfriend, shot as tions of philosophical thought-fragments, tia series of self-portraits to accompany the text. tled first circle, second circle, third circle, and fourth circle; and Postludia, consisting of concluding fragments. The fragments are extended reflections on the cryptic aphorisms, which bear marks of a hidden game. The opening aphorism is the doorkeeper to Gál’s diabolical game, mirroring back the assumptions of the reader: “Chosen by God … for damnation?” (p. 9). The opening move is a play on Jewish identity. Multiple meanings are encrypted in this aphorism, holding the final solution to the game. Curiously, none of the various reviews of the book have John Zorn, Naked City Live vol. 1: Knitting Factory, 1989 picked up on its sigThe photographs play off Nietzsche’s well- nificance, the complexity of which is hinted known provocation in the preface to Beyond in the first fragment. The leitmotif is taken up Good and Evil: again in the first aphorism of subsection II of Epigraffiti: “Yes damns no. No postpones yes” Supposing truth is a woman—what then? Are there (p. 15), meditated on in fragment VII. The dice not grounds for the suspicion that all philosophers, are loaded by the fact that the answers could insofar as they were dogmatists, have been very refer to being chosen by God or the question inexpert with women? of damnation. The leitmotif ends with the first aphorism of subsection III: “Only one thing The unequal relationship between the man and separates us from God—the Devil” (p. 21). the woman, coupled with Nietzsche’s advice Quotations by Franz Kafka, Jacques Derriagainst dogmatism, warn readers that Signs & da and Edmond Jabes before Epigraffiti, Signs Symptoms should be approached carefully. A & Symptoms, and Postludia, subtly reinforce severe injustice has been done somewhere, for the leitmotif of Jewish identity, given the topas Gál writes: “Identifying truth means exhum- ic was central for these writers, and Gál’s backing it” (p. 26). ground is worth noting here. The writer is the Therefore, with shovel in hand, let us begin son of Slovak sociologist and politician, Fewith the author’s photograph, located on the dor Gál, who founded and led the post ‘89 polast page. The photograph poignantly “sums litical movement, Public Against Violence, the up” the work for the reader before closing the Slovak counterpart to the Czech Civic Forum. book, perhaps forever. Gál’s expression sug- Fedor, who was born to Jewish parents in the gests, variously, a thinker lost in thought, a man concentration camp at Terezín, became the tarwaiting in a cafe for a blind date, or a patient get of anti-Semitic harassment in 1990 as nainformed of an incurable illness. The overall tionalist sentiments grew in Slovakia under the effect, the play of light and shadow on his face, influence of prime minister Vladimír Mečiar. The precarious situation led father and son to is seriously pretentious. Or is it? Aphorisms such as, “Where there emigrate from Bratislava to Prague in 1991. Whether this background bears any releis nothing to hide, the riddle remains unharmed” (p. 24) or, “He who has no secret, vance is unknown. Gál states in the author’s has nothing to lose” (p. 9), are worth reflect- comments: ing on when judging Gál’s photograph. Factual evidence shows his “preoccupied” What is Signs & Symptoms about? I would characexpression comes from gazing toward the right terize it as an intellectual account about the bottom at an object outside the photograph, in the di- I had reached, an account (conforming to an unrection of the light. This arresting detail, com- concealed need for self-preservation) that constantly bined with the photograph’s placement on the “leapt up” from this bottom in the form of a neurotlast page, evokes the final scene from Franz ic-poetic vision. This vision gradually began to creKafka’s short story, Before the Law, where the ate its own world, and in so doing became permanently “controlled” by rational calculation, seeker awaits admittance into the Law:
by thought, that is, my thought. For this reason Signs & Symptoms should be taken as a philosophical text (p. 81).
Gál’s thought indicates his vision is not a simple affirmation of Jewish identity for, “Whoever claims that we can reach the truth assumes the truth stands still” (p. 16). Although granted Israeli citizenship in 1995, he is not Jewish according to Talmudic law. Much like his text, Gál defies easy categorisation, writing elsewhere, “A matter of nation is a matter of taste” (p. 25). Even when Andrei Codrescu hails him as the “Czech Cioran,” he must be aware of the irony of such labels as he is neither Czech nor Jew. His particular genius lies in playing with identity, seen, for example, when he quotes himself in fragment VIII: Patience has no limits. If “living means constantly creating life” (Chardin), then “time means that time is constantly being borne” (Gál).
The Bottom To defer judgement and reread the book opens up a vision encompassing author and reader, an awareness of Being or what Gál terms the “Immutable” (p. 36). The affirmation of this naked truth is painfully funny. Allusions are repeatedly made linking one’s arse or bottom with being. Thinkers are masochists who expose themselves to the world, waiting for another unsympathetic kick in the ass: Assumptions attract. (p. 23) Life advice: Though giving ourselves up to one another means devouring one another, go ahead and give yourself to others, but bearing this in mind: Your bottom is yours alone … (p. 35) Behind every uttered word grins the spectre of a kick in the arse, whose sole wish is to move the thinker to spontaneity of thought, bursting from the philosopher’s mind in a gush of rage. (p. 34—35) If thinking is painful, what else is a thinker, but a masochist? (p. 63) From the bottom you cannot fall. (p. 23)
Pain is philosophical proof of one’s existence. In this light, Nietzsche’s truth is only a coquette, and a squeamish one to boot, while Gál’s truth is closer to a whore offering herself to the world, “a legitimate display of magnanimity in the spirit of prostitution” (p. 48). Enjoyment of the bottom leads to, “Paradise— brothel of the saints” (p. 23). The writings of Georges Bataille are felt in these reflections. The conflating of the ideal with the vulgar was explored in his infamous essays, The Solar Anus (I931) and The Pineal Eye (1967), which identified Being with the night of the anus, in the tearful and ecstatic spasm. Where alchemists, so fond of their neoPlatonism, stated the axiom “as above, so below,” Bataille reversed it to “as below, so above,” indicating the transcendent is found in the present and nowhere else. Or, as Gál writes, “He believed in God, so he gave it to Him smack in the face—by living” (p. 10). The defiance in the face of the impossible, reflected on in fragments XXXI—XLVI, echoes Jan Patočka’s essay, Negative Platonism (1953), which formulated the philosophical basis of dissidence for Václav Havel and other Charter 77 activists. Again Gál, never one to be locked into a position, tears apart Havel’s slogan, “living in truth,” in fragment XIV. Fragmented Vision Signs & Symptoms skirts the line between pain and play, between certitude and the unknown, for the Immutable is the abyss of the present, a freedom warded off by choices, beliefs, and identities: By submitting to the dictates of choice we condition the steps of our fate to the extent that we are subject to its strangle holds. The idiosyncrasy of useless amendments agonisingly distracts us from preconceived ideas. The downcast eyes of a shadow seal its code of vice into the depths of ignorance.— With a terrific scream of metamorphosis, I hesitate at each step (p. 65).
The “terrific scream of metamorphosis” is the exploration of the space beyond the symptom, beyond the Law, whose frontier was reported back in Antonin Artaud’s incomprehensible scream or Kafka’s story, The Metamorphosis. One of Gál’s key inspirations in this context is New York City composer and musician, John Zorn: E.M. Cioran is Nietzsche brought into the present. I have attempted to bring Cioran into the present. But what is this “present”? Can the present be viewed in any way objectively? And concerning this “bringing” of something into something other, we have a number of examples. For my own attempt I was inspired by John Zorn’s “bringing into the present” of Ornette Coleman [Spy vs. Spy]. Here we can see how subjective the concept of the present can be (p. 82).
Gál refers to Zorn’s hardcore, thrash-jazz rendition of Coleman, indicating how the same thing can be interpreted in different ways. Yet it is in the technique, the bringing of something into something other, that Gál’s inspiration becomes evident, especially when comparing his text with Zorn’s Naked City project. Zorn spent ten years, off and on, in Japan, working on various music projects and recording soundtracks to Japanese S/M films. He experienced a period of alienation and selfquestioning during these years that, after the death of his father, caused a reconnection to his Jewish heritage. The result was the intense, confrontational music of the Naked City project, lasting from 1988 to 1993, put together after Zorn’s return to New York City. Naked City was called postmodern for its fragmented, “channel surfing” style, rapidly switching between diverse musical genres in seconds, interspersed with aggressive shards of noise. The hardcore experimentation was driven by Zorn’s exploration of a radical Jewish identity that refused to be categorized or limited by orthodox notions. Gál also reveals a range of influences in Signs & Symptons, quoting snippets from E.M. Cioran, Teilhard de Chardin, Lev Shestov, Otokar Březina, Ladislav Klíma, to himself while exploring identity in a style that foils the reader’s expectations. A key issue for both Gál and Zorn is for the audience to discern between appearances and what is actually going on, between citation of other works, usage of ready-mades, mixing of high and low and an underlying order. The mark of authenticity lies, not in pain, but in discerning between visual and aural perceptions, between superficial reading and listening carefully to discover the hidden grammar. Their usage of fragments, fascination with pain, and underlying intensity to their works, indicate a strange attractor behind their art. Zorn was inspired by a passage in Bataille’s Tears Of Eros where the French philosopher describes an epiphany he had while contemplating a 1905 photograph of the last public execution in Peking, taken by French ethnologist Louis Carpeaux. The condemned man was convicted of murdering a prince and ordered the execution of Leng T’che, “cutting to pieces.” The man was fed opium to keep from passing out, tied to a public stake, and cut to pieces over a period of several days. The photograph shows him gazing upward ecstatically, missing arms, feet and pieces of his chest, while the crowd looks down at a man cutting off his right leg. Bataille was obsessed by his facial expression: This photograph had a decisive role in my life. I have never stopped being obsessed by this image, at once ecstatic and intolerable … I discerned, in the violence of this image, an infinite capacity for reversal … What I suddenly saw, and what imprisoned me in anguish—but which at the same time delivered me from it—was the identity of these perfect contraries, divine ecstasy and its opposite, extreme horror.
The image of the body, being fragmented to pieces, captures an inexpressible whole. The inside cover of Zorn’s Leng T’che CD contains Bataille’s words and Carpeaux’s photograph, superimposed by the Qabbalistic diagram of the Gates of Light in gold. The sig(continued on page 15)
Six Dreams 1. Dream of Jonathan R. I am the man they killed and unspooled his intestines which they strung between him and a bent lamppost across town. This is the tightrope I am walking, this intestine, and strangely, and anonymously, the man they killed, slumped on a rooftop, is me. Important that this information’s recipient not be shaky on the preceding point: the man whose intestines are strung between himself (myself) and a bent lamppost, and the man who is now walking these intestines, is the same man, is me. This is the line, below me, which carries their information. Information along the lines of: statistics and interpretations of price fluctuations in gasoline, market predictions for the red-onion trade, famous women’s lingerie measurements, and so on. And so, as information is transmitted, the line vibrates, which makes my life that much harder, staying upright, not falling. I can feel this information, my feet have learned to interpret its movements, to read them. Weighty, philosophical information, as well as joking, produces negligible vibration—it’s with the trifling and gossip that I wish I possessed the power of flight. My feet are my sole sources of information, or at least the only sources I trust. I have two feet, the Talmud requires two witnesses. Walking away from myself, I have never reached the lamppost, probably never will. If I did, I like to think I’d just turn around and head back, to myself. My sources, their information, tells me that the lamppost used to light the sidewalk outside a physician’s office, a pediatrician. Used to light because I’ve learned that the bulb went out, and was never replaced … that’s why it’s so dark. The physician must practice in darkness. His upstairs neighbor, his fat daughter, living in an apartment he rents for her, hangs her underwear out on the line— and so when the information is transmitted, it sometimes becomes wet. There is nothing more dangerous to me as wet information. One day I’ll slip, and I’ll fall away from myself … and then what? Possibly I am seeking his treatment, the physician’s. Possibly that is my purpose. We are in pain. Always in pain. This is worse, far worse, far more painful than being a human bridge, though I do not derive this opinion from personal experience. I am on the other end of this line, gut ripped open, sitting in a hardbacked chair atop the roof of a laundromat. Laundromat which always shakes and sometimes jumps from the perpetual activity of the machines inside. His fat daughter could do her wash here, but she doesn’t. She washes her oversized shrouds in her bathtub and hangs them out to dry on my line, clothespins pinching their information, impeding the flow. My self sits there and I am projected here. I am information not strung, just particles thrown forward and assembled on the most tenuous of grounds. Whenever I step, it hurts me, causes me indescribable pain, wrenches me forward, slumps me in my chair. But I do not fall down, off the roof, will never, I cannot. I am seeking treatment. Posture should concern everyone, not just young women, the fat daughter. I stand here as if a spoke from a wheelchair’s wheel was grafted to my spine. For additional balance, I clutch a length of air, which isn’t much, sometimes thick, sometimes thin, depending on the fire situation below. Often the burning, always controlled (or so the information assures me), is intense. Smoke rises, dark, and that’s why I can’t trust my ears and eyes and nose. I’m sure the undersides of my feet are incredibly blistered and calloused. I don’t know what they’re burning below me—that’s not included in the information. Possibly they’re entertaining the thought of burning the information itself—my line has sometimes been threatened. But I’m not worried. They need the line as much as I do. It’s just that they’re tempted, amusing themselves, asking themselves maybe: What can we do without? I sometimes think of my mother, remember. It has to do with the umbilical cord. But I’m not fed information. Instead, their information seems to be my waste product, the product of
Comics by Jeremiah Paleček and Emil Dočkal
a natural process for which I’m not obliged to apologise. Where is my umbilical cord now, my now ashen and shrunken lifeline? My mother lived her entire life without asking a single question. Thoughts of my mother do not constitute information. It’s occurred to me that no one might want to know about my mother. This assumption seems fair, and I doubt my mother would’ve disagreed or been offended by it. If she were alive, she’d assume I am responsible for my present condition. I sometimes think that the lamppost, the physician, his fat daughter, that all of it is an imagining, that my feet crossed themselves and my toes, in fear, gripped onto the wrong set of coursing information, confused. This thought is more a fear, however I’m willing, and unafraid, to exist within any interpretation. It’s quite possible that my innards, this line, stretches out forever, tied to nothing at the other end, just stretching, whether infinitely or not. Maybe my intestines just end and hang straight, suspended there, beyond smoke, in space. Possibly there are others who share my predicament, whose intestines run parallel to mine. (They must run parallel, they must avoid intersection, mix-ups: all information must flow in one direction. Not that any one direction is correct, just that one direction must obtain to realize any progress.) And so, contrary to Euclid and his disciple Spinoza, it pleases me to imagine that somewhere our parallel intestines, impossibly, meet and run into one. And that we are all perpetually walking our lengths of intestines to that far-off impossible point, a star hiding itself just now in smoke and daylight. That is the irreducible point—the point shining over a river starred with rocks which once formed a low stone bridge—where all information gathers. But we have decided to discard the perpetual. All of us sitting in hard-backed chairs atop buildings, our intestines stringing out, will walk on our intestines, will run, leap, until our intestines meet and intertwine. Then we’ll all follow each other on our common length, in single file, to the distant star. (It’s my sincere hope that our combined weight doesn’t pull the star down out of the sky, fall it down to earth.) And there we’ll all live, free from our attachments, our bodies, free to discuss and form ideas. (One idea: disembowelment is the foremost enabler of individual freedom we have thus far evolved, however accidental that evolution.) Upon reaching our destination, our goal, we’ll know all, least important of which the identity of our common murderer. And then we won’t reel ourselves in from those terres-
trial rooftops, no. Instead, we’ll sever our ties on the sharp edges of other stars and watch our cords fall to earth, getting heavier with the long fall, gravity-pulled, crushing all, raising dust. We have some explanation due. 2. Dream of Nathan O. Esq. I wake up alone to the sound of the workmen and stagger out of my room, groggy, awake with a headache. I go into the next room, the room I usually avoid, the room she’s taken over, to say my one daily word to the girl: Hello. The girl sits in the middle of the next room, sitting atop a low, small white object, straddling it, just waiting for me. The object is a white square, a cube, its weight to be determined by the person who is to lift and throw it, by me. A cube to be launched into flight soon, into space, by me. How heavy, or light, should I will it? I bend over and decide the cube should be light. Having made this decision, it’s still a serious effort to carry the cube outside, and I’m sweating. All the construction workers are lined up in two silent rows down the street, lined up on both sides on the sidewalk, all the workmen who’ve been tearing up the street, who for the past ten months have dug holes and filled holes and dug holes again and again in front of my house. The workmen who’ve been drinking cheap beer and smoking cigarettes so poorly rolled they nearly fall apart every time they’re lit. I’ve hated their trash outside all these months, their discarded cans and bottles, their butts and packs. Holding the cube is becoming a difficult proposition. I begin to think the cube is a chunk of street they dug up. If I it is, how did the girl get it? My arms feel alternately weak and stiff. Finally the girl nods at me, smiles, and I run a few steps, down the street, hoping to add some momentum to my throw. I release the cube from two hands, workmen on both sides of me forever, almost throwing from my groin, and the cube goes up in the air … not too high, but it seems to disappear … no one sees what happens to it, no one knows. The workmen soon lose interest, mull about, smoke and grind ash on their shoes and the sidewalk, gossip and laugh, point with their hands of all thumbs. I head inside, alone. 3. Dream of Beth I. A pure, bonewhite chessboard and all the pieces, both white and black, have rubber-stamp undersides. The ink is inexhaustible. Each
piece, each regular-sized piece, somehow, stamps the shape of its move on the chessboard, ink perfectly filling in the traveled squares. I constantly pick the pieces up over my head, wondering how it’s possible, but each seems regular. Though I’m only playing black, and I have no opponent, the chessboard is a mess of ink, black, pitch, a hole I jump through, for no obvious reason, a hole I fall through, down a hill, swerving my way around faceless couples, disposed without evident logic, loving and sleeping on mattresses half-buried in the sand of the slope. I slide down, down into a hallway, sandgrains on linoleum, an overlit hallway stuffed into a stocking, the hallway maybe a hollow leg, a leg of hallway which bends, at the knee, sending me tumbling further, tumbling inside a thumb toe, where I stop, gather myself warm under the nail, and sleep. 4. Dream of Bernard W. A tower with water pooled on top, water neckhigh, neck-deep, atop the tower and yet the water is contained by no wall, only floating still, floating immovably on the roof of this tower. A tower, then, with water pooled neckhigh, neck-tall, atop. Slabs of wood, doors maybe, some rectangles, without handles, some odd and hooked, float on the surface, atop the water, atop the tower. I stand, naked and greased, on a slab, wobbly, legs spread, ass out for balance, and then, tired after awhile in the sun—which is immediately overhead as if I could touch it—and overbitten by gnats, greenheads and mosquitoes, I lay down on the slab, on my stomach, and now either sleep or am pulled out to the edge. And despite my efforts, I can’t help myself from going over the edge. No water falls off the tower, not drop one—the water remains still—and the slab falls or doesn’t fall, and I fall, many stories. It’s a residential tower, but where are the residents? I fall many stories, hitting the rocks at the tower’s base—the slab does not hit bottom— and I am not hurt, or it doesn’t hurt. I prop myself up on my elbows, examine my stomach and find a wound like a target, many circles circumscribing each other. And then I roll off the rocks to the thin beach, and from the beach I roll into the marshes and then into water, rolling dazed, gluttonously. The tower is on an island, almost takes up the entire island. In the water, I don’t struggle, just calmly go under, and a child sees me and then his father, a fisherman, and they, in a small motorboat,
save me, and someone I know, someone who seems very familiar to me, hands me a towel on the other shore, shore lined with fir and pine trees, alternating, planted equidistantly along the circumference. The tower was on an island, its base ringed with rocks and then a thin beach and a thin ring of marsh, and then a circular lagoon, light water, and a circular shore and who knows how many other rings within rings? Maybe marsh again then beach, rocks, another tower, water, another me … and then the identical infinity repeated, nested atop my tower … and the others … Someone I know doesn’t thank my rescuers, and drives me home. 5. Dream of Herman S. A house of book, a bookhouse, a house containing a book and a book only, no room for anything else, a book the size and floorplan of a house, covers and pages filling and accommodating the space and layout. There are pages of floors and pages of ceiling and pages, bottom cover the floor and top cover the ceiling, pages bulging out the windows, pages even stepping up the stairs. The book is always shut, as are the house’s doors, must be shut, would burst the house if opened, must never be opened. Wondering what is written, I stand outside. 6. Dream of Barry D. I was standing at the end, the dead-end of a narrow hallway, facing the dead-end wall of this narrow hallway. I was standing a breath from the plaster wall, thin, more of a membrane than a wall, semi-quasi-translucent, but white, white plaster. But I was there, am here still, or some of me, and why? I can’t listen, must forget to listen, even as tired as I am from all this travel. Why did I return? why? A screen kept giving me these obscure messages: an enormously fat descendant of slaves swallowing linen handkerchief after linen handkerchief, an underfed psychic rapping tabletops and selling sperm, his, in autographed vials, between summonses, a spray that will remove your eyebrows to another, previously inaccessible, dimension … But my neck hurt in my awkward (and necessary) disposition of eye and ear. I’d come to this hospital because T., an acquaintance of ours, of mine and S.’s, had shouldered me at the fish store and told me that S. was in the hospital, this hospital, recuperating from the after-effects of major surgery. He wasn’t going to die—he was recuperating—
but he wasn’t well, and, you know, his family’s far away, doesn’t exactly get along well with his father, you understand, all of this years ago, and on and on. Crux of it was that I should visit S., and T. had already done so, that afternoon, and then had stopped at the fish market, to pick up a few filets of salmon to serve to a girl he’d met in a park last week. I nodded, listened to him as I watched a clerk weigh the pink flesh, gray underneath and at the edges, and wrap it in green paper. I once derived enjoyment from the fish store, enjoyed touching the shaved ice, the gathered glaze of dead eyes, the morning after smell. Now all of those impressions, which I didn’t remember having, seemed false. Memory sensed slavery, memory the method of control. Because I was the only person, I suppose, in this enormous metropolis to have been embarrassed out of the language, out of my language. I arrived home, that home, the old home, only three nights ago, from abroad—where? And my first visit, after I was humiliated at my parents’ house, was to the fish store, and now, here, the hospital. I suspect that maybe it’s not mine anymore, this language. I heard it, even spoke it, it might have been the only language I knew. But I was too embarrassed to claim it, had begun to doubt its utility. I have relinquished responsibility for my language, now. I was walking to the hospital, three balloons I’d just purchased at a party store, three balloons inflated with helium and tied around my left wrist: yellow, yellow and a red. These balloons were, as the salesperson at the party store said, Scented, lemon and raspberry, and they taste like it too. Lick them and they’ll dissolve in your mouth—here, try it … I declined, paid, thanked her wordlessly and left, walking the ten long avenue blocks to the hospital. I felt ridiculous walking with three balloons tied around my wrist, two different yellows, as one yellow balloon was significantly more inflated than the other. But, I suppose, one lemon prevailed. At the receptionist’s desk, I waited five minutes for visiting hours to begin. One minute past the hour, I asked for S. and was told he wasn’t on file, to try the emergency room, see if he was there and if he could see me, was in proper shape. Presentable was the word the receptionist used. I went, followed instructions. Searching for the ER, I must have lost myself and ended up here, at the end of a hallway leading to nowhere, up against the thin wall, the
membrane. One of my three balloons, the raspberry red one, popped on an exposed lightbulb directly above my head. Startled (I didn’t awake), I was now in darkness, a darkness required for me to notice the television set above me, wallmounted, on mute, now the only source of illumination: a folk-singing evangelist born without middle fingers, a monkey with giant gums, healthy, which spelled the word monkey out on the screen, more accurately on the lens of the unfortunate who was filming, spelled it out in pastel: first MONEY, then NOMEKEY, then KONE MY (an animated banana peeled itself and frowned to the uppermost right of the screen) and then again MONEY.
My hallway dead-ended somewhere in the middle of another hallway, a hallway running perpendicular to the hallway I was dead-ended in. If there hadn’t been my thin wall there, the two hallways would’ve intersected. My hallway, its outer wall jutting into the other halllway, it seemed, was, suppose, an afterthought on someone’s part—whose? And what didn’t they want me to find? the insects scissoring their long legs down the forbidden hallway, outlines barely visible through my wall, beetle-clicking to each other? But no, there are words I understood, my ear pressed against the giving plaster. Who was your best kiss? or if not best, then most memorable? Giggling. Definitely not <interpolate a foreign name here> in <interpolate an exotic location here, a metropolis without vowels>. Doors opening and shutting. You mascarawearing music teacher! Who’s the terminal? High heels or is it insect walking down a linoleum floor. So’s it’s more towards the. It’s not worth it, no, never is. I’m sick of you Jessie. I’ve spent so much with you. Pay up front, please, yes, up front. This is where I was and what I was doing, listening, watching, shuddered. And I felt these inner shakings, thoughts of when would I finally understand, be able to assert a pattern, and then leave it, sealed … The membrane thinned, the plaster fell into itself. My body disconnected from my head, head from body, faulty wiring. My head floated up, detached itself, spine came up too, head, spine dangling. I am light, irresponsible for these animals. My body sucked into a vacuum un-
derneath my floating white head, body heaped on the linoleum against the thin wall, under the pulsing television, two shriveled balloons waving from the mess, and a loose string. Head with the spine attached floated to the ceiling and my head passed through, unscathed. I didn’t even tense myself for impact. My spine, unable for whatever reasons to make the passage, hit the ceiling and clattered to the floor, on top of my body. My spine merged with the loose string, fusing into one length. My head came up, through the hospital floors, passing through the rooms, through the room of a convalescing rabbi, unnoticed through a kidney transplant operation for a man named Zachary (or maybe that’s just what the doctor’s were calling him), through an overheated room of three pregnant children. I am my head, and so I see and taste and smell and hear, sense. Floating up towards the roof, feeling the fast air past my ears, head large and white above the metropolis, a metropolis of all outskirts, just outskirts, only streets leading to each other … I sensed no accessible middle. My head ascended, past the tall buildings of last century, past the tall buildings now, the enormous office towers and their satellites. Would my head pop on an antenna or spire? No, I gained height, or at this point there is no height, only space beyond the wisps, gained until my head floated alongside the earth, and all the other disembodied ideas in our small universe … until I settled, head fixed and set to spin around and around. Here I am, then, an uninterested party, only an existence, a light’s impediment. Until someone, some day, an older man in my imagination, gazing late at night through the crested dawn from the outskirts of the outskirts, frightened, tired, yearning, will, even though I’m small among the small, acknowledge me. Please don’t, old fisherman, don’t attempt to wonder … don’t begrudge me my chance disappearance, don’t begrudge me my failing modesty … in this space. If you do spot me, sir, then forget, forget, forget … Row home, and to sleep.
Intellectual Perverts The lines line up & nothing happens. What was that about ‘affect,’ your attitude detached but still in the black? The event sounds just like a feral, capital sense of timing, talk-back static as it empties all night clearly & quietly as rain or a commitment to free speech as it drains out each Friday & comes round as incessant, languorous prose. Every movement is strobed by flash light. We shake hands, smile as an art form, like Frederic Jameson deep in a conversation going nowhere, that look of euphoria exactly like praxis thought through & executed on the upper west side, per diem covering expenses. What was that about your organ, that bit where you wore your heart in your mouth? As if poetry really paid attention? We mingle outside the gallery, background sucked in like old cocaine. I lean up warm against you, stars panoramic as a beauty spot empty for the weekend, neat folds in itineraries matching & fun, dazzling headspace decorative.
Six, Pervateen, 20
AD Cute, slim euro trash bottom, 19, 5’10”, 155 lbs, brown hair, blue eyes. Hot, deep butt and mouth. Out only. $250 hr./$700 overnight. Will do anything for a price. No limits. Email me for pic, more info. at juicyLAboy@ hotmail.com
Yeah, um ... There’s just nothing I won’t do, I guess. Nothing? Not for $5000. Okay. I’m strange. How so? How so? Because I’m a slut.
Hi juicyLAboy, I saw your ad. Sounds good. I’m a total top, 30s, into some kinky and very dangerous shit. I’ll pay 5 grand. Send me a nude photo showing your face, ass, and a phone number. We’ll talk. Box 157
It’ll be heavy.
Hello? Can I speak to juicyLA boy? Hi. Box 157, right? How did you know? Oh, juicyLAboy isn’t my name. What’s your name? It’s Dutch. You don’t sound Dutch.
if something goes wrong, it’ll make it more tragic. ‘Cos if it goes wrong, it should go really, really wrong, you know? Like, oh my God, what the fuck have I done?
Really? I mean I don’t care.
Okay. Wow, this is ... Are you going to torture me or something? To say the least. You’re going to ... Shit. Okay, no, that’s cool. So you said. This is great.
Something could go seriously wrong.
Yeah. I like your sense of humor.
That’s cool, I guess. So you don’t mind if things go seriously wrong. What? Um... I see what you’re saying. Getting cold feet?
Is it? Yeah, I mean ... Oh, right. That’s hilarious.
What, or the deal’s off?
It’s a test. I think you’re really cute and hot. It’s a test of my will. And yours.
Let’s say yes.
Shit, okay. My uncle ... did shit to me, okay? Does that do it?
You’re a beautiful kid
Did what? Under what circumstances?
You are. Don’t sell yourself short.
Fuck. I was staying at his house, and he did shit to me.
Can’t we just do this?
Tell me exactly what happened.
Let’s do it. Cute, straight 18 year old white punk rock type with $$$ and heroin problem seeks wealthy man with mansion and drug connection for long term friendship. I like emotional and physical abuse but no sex. Email me for a photo, etc.. Todd Box631
Do you understand what I’m saying? You do dope? No. You should try it.
I did. Then you should know where I’m coming from. Where’s that? In your words.
It’s really got you by the balls, doesn’t it?
Like what? What?
Is this Todd?
Fuck it, man. Let’s do it.
No, a lot.
So take a cab over here. I’ll pay for it.
I have a sick sense of humour too.
What are you into in bed? Normally. I mean when you’re given a choice.
Against your will.
Meaning you don’t care?
Shit. I liked it, okay? But I was twelve years old.
I don’t care, right. Sure.
So what happened to your uncle?
No. I think you’re in denial, but that’s hot.
I can drive. I was fucking twelve years old. I didn’t ...
Who is this? Box 157.
You crack me up. Right. Got it. I’d rather crack your skull. That’s great. So can I ask you something, Brian?
It’s about the ad.
What about before? He killed himself.
I know. Before?
I liked the photo.
Yeah. You’re calling.
Are you for real about the money?
You don’t sound interested.
Before heroin. Before you got into it.
Because my parents told the police.
Right. Girls. Your parents found out. You’re straight.
Yeah, if you really have no limits, but —
Well, do you have any pictures of you as a kid?
I’m not stupid. What do you mean?
I’m okay. When do you want to do this, now?
Should I bring anything, or ... ?
Okay, I do.
You’re really going to give me $5000?
Let’s say... 9 pm tomorrow.
You were abused?
Like you don’t know that.
And I can hit you, humiliate you, tie you up. I just want to make that clear. Hello?
Did I say I wanted sex?
He did shit to me. What do you think?
Do you want to explain the ‘no limits’ thing?
So your email wasn’t bullshit?
What’s your name?
Oh, right. That’s funny.
Go on? Okay, um... You’re very intense.
You mean that I have none.
Yeah ... um ... Oh, I get it.
Fuck, no. Oh, this is great. Hi.
And that’s a recent picture? You still have the mohawk?
Todd, Send your photo and a way for me to call you. If I like your looks, you got a deal. Box157
No, it’s interesting. So I guess you liked my picture.
Was your ad bullshit?
I said I guess I’ll have to give it to a charity.
I’m fucked up. So you’ve got a lot of dope. As much as you want.
I told them. Why? But you’ve been with guys. No.
Good shit. Amazing shit.
Never? Not even for money?
No, man. Come on.
Tar, rock, powder. You’re covered.
Come on, what?
Because I was stupid. You wish you hadn’t told them? What do you fucking think? Shit. Of course I wish I hadn’t told them. Jesus fucking Christ. Oh, okay.
I was a kid. Yeah.
Great. Let’s do it. You were a kid?
Yeah, I have some. That’s funny.
But I’ll have to give it to charity, I guess.
Bring them. Then
So you look about 5’10”, 130 lbs.? I guess.
Whatever, sure. Cute small Thai boy, 20 but look much young. I like to be the slave for a mean white man who is rich. Bondage, SM, WS, FF, anything is possible for $$$$. I can be girl or boy. Urgent needing for money to send my family in Thailand. Write to me soon. You ask and I will tell you price. Kwui Chrung Box 119
In cash or what? See, that’s funny. You’re the one with the great sense of humor. In cash, sure.
I’m sure you can, but I want you trapped here. I’ll call you a cab. Is now okay?
Kwui. I want to fuck you bareback, shove huge dildos up your ass, and put my fist inside you. I want to fill your stomach with my come and piss. I want to punch you in the stomach until you throw up, then make you lick the vomit off the floor. I want to beat you until you piss and shit and vomit blood. It gets worse. This is not a joke. Name your price. Box157
Yeah. You mean when you were a kid ...
Look, the ad said no sex. I’m not into sex.
Dear Box 157, I say very nothing because my English is small. I like
, Pervateen, 2002
be with you as the sex slave. You send $10,000 to Thailand for my family okay? I have no phone use. You come to meet me Jon’s Market, 31171 Cadenza Boulevard in Whittier. I work on night. No Sunday. Kwui Chrung. Box 119 So you don’t mind if I tape record this?
you’re going to die. You.
Yeah, go. We’re going to drive somewhere, okay?
I hear you.
So what happens?
Fucking get stoned.
What do you think happens?
Go, yes. More drugs please?
I ... You die. You. Oh, yes. You understand. I’m going to kill you. I’m going to rip you apart.
Sure. Here. Here’s the lighter. Smoke the whole rock if you want. You’re so dead.
So am I the only one who answered the ad or something? No, not at all. You’re just the one I chose.
Us talking. You don’t mind.
So it’s like that? Yeah.
Forget it. So you want to go ahead and do it?
Dead. You. Dead?
Why do you think?
Okay. I don’t know what to say. Why do you want to do it, I guess?
My looks or whatever.
I get off on it.
Dr. Jack Kervorkian type seeks cute, thin 18-24 year old terminal patient type bottom. Anything you want in return, I’ll take care of it. Serious replies only. Send photo to Box 157
Exactly. You’re like the perfect indie rock grunge boy.
Grunge? That’s weird.
Is it painless?
I like the long hair, the ‘I don’t care how I look thing.’ You have a very pretty face.
You want it painless?
I’m not gay. I don’t know if that matters.
I kill you. Me. Kill you. Yes.
I understand not so much.
Okay, good. When?
Don’t worry about it. You’re so cute. Look at me. Oh, my fucking God. There is no way in hell you’re 20 years old.
I no ... Sorry.
You’re unbelievably cute.
Now? Right here? In my car?
Say again please.
You’re beautiful. Beautiful?
You don’t understand what I’m talking about, do you?
You. You are.
Is this Wayne?
Nevermind. Let’s drive somewhere.
This is Wayne.
When can I kill you? Now? In three hours? Tomorrow? You understand?
Dear Brian, My name’s Wayne. Your ad was weird, but I think I get it. Here’s a photo. If you’re not a cop, call me. Wayne Box 63 Hello.
I’m really high. I’m stoned. I’m fucked up on drugs. You want to get high? You want to smoke some crack?
You send money.
Okay. Here, hold on a second. Write her name and address there.
Yeah. I should, I guess. But look ...
Evil W top, late 30s, hung and wealthy, into W, H, or A boyish teen bottoms, and looking for the ultimate. Box 157. Dear Box 157, This is a picture of me and my boy. He’s 18, I’m 42. If you’re really evil, give me call. I’ll explain. Hank 323-***-**** Clark residence.
Can I speak to Hank?
You said in the ad that if I wanted something ...
Speaking. Who’s this?
I’m rich if that’s what you mean.
The ad guy.
You said I should ask.
Box 157 . Hunh.
Kervorkian puts people to sleep, right?
What can I do for you?
That sounds okay. It doesn’t matter. So tell me about your body. My body? What do you want to know?
So how old are you?
I’d like pay off some debts to some people.
Eighteen. How much do you owe?
Hello? So what are you looking for, ... what’s your name?
Nice. It looks like it would be really nice and skinny. You’re tall.
I’m not gay.
I hope you’re hairless.
I know. You said. But what does that matter now? I mean, who cares?
Yeah, pretty much. Even your legs and ass?
Hi. It’s Brian.
I definitely have to kill you.
No, I guess it’s okay. I just ... forget it. If it’s important to you to die a straight boy in your own mind, fine.
Why? Or maybe I don’t want to know.
I ... so sorry. Sorry.
I don’t know. You said Kervorkian.
want to die. If you want die, it shouldn’t matter, should it?
Yeah, I guess. Brian?
Okay, like about $7,000. You don’t have to take care of all of that.
Brian. The ultimate, like I said. That’s pretty vague.
You’re being pretty vague yourself.
Yeah, I guess.
I don’t care, so why do you care?
We’ll sit down, figure out all the money you owe, get some money orders, and you can send them off before we do it.
Okay. That’s ... you know, thanks.
What’s not to like?
Here, smoke this. I’ll light it.
Shit. Sure. To whom. What? To mother. Sang Chrung.
Nothing. I didn’t think you’d call.
What about your crack? You change your mind? Hardly.
Yeah, I guess. Wow, this is pretty weird.
Sang ... Chrung.
Shit, I don’t know. Why don’t you check and tell me?
Good. More. Smoke some more. That’s it. Take another hit. Fry your little brains. That’s it.
Good. Fine. Now the address. Where do you want me to send the money?
Fuck. Yeah, I guess. No hair. Why?
Why did you write me?
Yes. You understand what I mean by that.
How do I give her the money? Sorry? Forget it. Let’s go.
Understand? Sorry. Go. You understand that
I’m just sick of it. I’m just fucking sick of it. Sick of what? The whole fucking thing. Everything, everybody. I’m sick of the bullshit. Fucking get up, fucking hang out, fucking go to bed.
Yeah, I know what it means.
No. Yeah, no hair. Look, I don’t know what to tell you.
What does it mean?
So how did you see the ad?
Fuck. It means a guy who sucks dick and takes it up the ass.
A friend showed me. He thought it was weird.
So how soon can we start? Now?
I’m a twisted son of a bitch. So that was your boyfriend in the picture? That’s my boyfriend.
You scared? Nice. Yeah, I’m fucking scared. What?
Then this can’t be a huge surprise to you.
Just come on over. Your boyfriend. I should. Oh, yeah.
I guess it is. Yeah. You’re not full of shit, right?
So you liked what you saw in the picture.
That’s nothing. But I want some dirty, hot sex for that much money. You agree? Yeah.
A fact that doesn’t matter. Look, I’ll put you to sleep, but I’m going to get off on you first. I said in the ad that I wanted a bottom. Do you know what that means?
Oh. I ... oh. Okay. And you’re going to let me kill you, right?
Yeah. But it’s just a fact.
Let’s face it. If you have a problem being fucked, then you don’t really
Just take a deep breath, and come on over. Okay. Where do you live?
You said you’d explain. (continued on page 13)
Icelandic Saga I meet the young rock star on the head of a pin. We dine on crustaceans and memories amid the familiar clack of plates and cups. His hair is an immaculate nebula mixed with ardor. It is Wednesday afternoon and the ceiling is covered with infants affixed by their spinal columns. Above us they appear quite content as my friend tells of his own disorganized childhood. I excuse myself and rise from the floor floating, from my mouth emerges the thin paper fortune from a fortune cookie. I do not have the heart to tell him that soon we will depart from this world, his immortality sealed. When our entrees arrive, I see that he posthumously ordered the lamb and I eat both meals, finally free of his presence. If the story ends without a reason, surely this lovely dessert will provide us with all the sugary, forged compliments policemen require.
middle quarter: a theory plexiglas tanks relieved sustained seamless hosting the artist in amniotic fluid depart now and fold along the doting line too old to see she’s staler than a snail forgotten on florida windshield catapulted to acapulco are we having a severe laugh today
Mayakovsky Never Did This look snow: afford no escape from our self-important conversation we poets in snow— speaking of weighty philosophic topics and I seem to remember that snowball hit me in the face seemed to matter more than anything else we discussed that kaleidoscopic day of great December discovery and we even wound up at long last back in front of the fire screwing like two regular dunces.
platitude tiny items of traditional inequity renege voices philadelphia’s small percentage she could love a statue old hands smooth out flag the only reason to do is to do
5 Poems sticks they contain fourth margin odessa liner of font dreams integrate gulf vacancy i and you debated too long for our own good orders never vary they never plucking shipmates from the prey ledge-held elbow room taper off as horsemen close-up swash pity liquor barnyard pregnancy back to back to back what she wags purse bombast notice galore specimen insider mortgage rehearsal the last but one diversion valuable spare sabre parts enjoy formol company of cubic dross ponytailment of femaleness rob we rob hers and shards bite the nutbolt strictly speaking peril hooked bakerman draft lucid pearl stephany said the lightest words ears only ring twice on the shelf misericord plummets down to the low water-mark shoulders collarbones askew peacefighters argue over tv dramas of consequence to the race at large transparency bitter lemons a perpetual fright ripping eagerness your fingers unsealing we in the fever of early lust
enclosure circa third exit merchant sit here display your wares the voice of the undone shameful stupor on the outside of marketplace dislocation renewed by contract inmate bulging stardom and expressionless custard pools my nephews who should experience the density of air supposed by optimistic rope walkers on each flank the birthing breath of bottomlessness and fortitude optical device shun the transitory ancient requests all that is makeshift is imposed on the scarified nipple of the city the still hoping tarred up lung of our collective saga
Intermission #5 Ugly people naturally give birth to children who look most beautiful next to their parents. On Two Days, Aeroplaned for Julien Poirier
Dots the screw hole situation M. knew know that it to me Seventy (took) five years to realize that seven (Harms K) can come before six? To save money or save money or make money airplanes are now charging magazines for foreign travel. [We Passed A Factory With Tombstones] We passed a factory with tombstones in its lap (like picnic tables). 40 West. Brooklyn Public Library Card. Science Class. Navy blue for a green sea: I understand that I don’t understand much about the world. Seasons, suicide, and high top sneakers flourish like toilet water draining. Three windows to the north, one airplane to the south. Eighty percent of the world is under water (misunderstood).
to greet you there is conditional support of new rulers the summer sale of oneness sometimes the wind tortures and these cups may be empty look over there starting with people the reduction of profile as widespread offer labour deeds are shadows to a cloud a terror target pressure reliever a union shop proudly serving hardwood floors a narcotic separatists suspected a sonic nurse extradited from reports lifted shot in the dark the charalambides that your lips made joy shapes she sees it in your mouth
even god must be lonely at night for don cauble
what is anti? inclusion or exclusion putting letters together in portland yea he writes a legitimacy in front of eyes to peace make it’s not purposeful to be difficult nor difficult as purpose these junkmail oracles read love love oft used
4 Poems [The Thing I Fear Most About Dying] The thing I fear the most about dying is being cold forever. Please when I die could I be buried some place warm? Fire Island? A coke and sandwich on the deli counter the old man with his paper hat left behind like a quarter on the table or days like Manhattan dining.
Lab Report I’m suffering from lack of felt experience. But music from the early post-colonial period often helps, as now, with the Morogoro Jazz Band playing to the rescue and experience felt again: a snake on the seat of a withered Fiat in a ditch, a snake in a chest of drawers, a snake bludgeoned by the hotel boy and its cut-and-dried skeleton blanching on the foot-path after lunch: beach-bound we, bush-bound termites, and the lack of felt experience burns like a fever. Recently in Prague, for instance, I was assaulted, insulted, demeaned, drunk, pleased and displeased and I don’t know how that can be so I’ll consult a specialist with an empirical bent to go with spiritual experience or a clergyman who’s seen it all. I’d like to know why in Vienna I was met with schnitzels and aspersions while all I asked for was a waste treatment plant, top of the line and full-blooded as a quarterly review. But that’s what we pay specialists for, that’s why they send us postcards with wishes for the rest of our lives: failed experiments must be repeated in your own words, the sea captain informed his parrot. You could walk the streets counting dogs or focus on just one breed, frisk and prevaricate shamelessly as long as you get to milk that finder’s fee and proclaim in another’s words: bull’s eye, three points, oh, no, net ball, that must hurt! That’s the way to accrue experiences, not by the pound but wholesale and you can always spare a line for your pals when the detective insists something must have happened in Mombasa, yeah, right, Morogoro, so the alibi might not last till tomorrow. At sundown the beach seethes with guesses.
“AD” (from page 11) What’s your offer? My offer? You read my ad. What’s your offer? What do you think? I don’t know. You tell me.
sadistic, violent, wealthy pedophile type seeking cute young victim. Name your price. Box 157. Box 157, I’ll be at the Arco Station in West Hollywood, corner of Fairfax and Sunset, 2 am, Friday Aug 23. Anonymous
a lot of hits. Mostly fags, but a few girls. They’re obsessed with him.
Do what he says, Felix.
Yeah, I always noticed those commercials.
Okay. Dad? Later, Felix.
He got offered a series, a Disney film, a couple of other things. But it was too late.
No way. Look in his eyes.
That’s the offer.
Here. I’ll pull the covers off. Nice, right?
Not much there.
They’re beautiful eyes.
Brian’s here to see you. Say hello.
He looks kind of soulful, doesn’t he? Guys say that.
You read my ad. Hello?
Semen and Marmalade “Don’t waste anyone’s time by submitting … marmalade—or semen-stained MSS.” From the guidelines of a poetry journal.
So that’s it, now thanks to you I know the biggest mistake I’d ever made was to spill my semen on my poems while guzzling marmalade.
Hi. Get out of bed, Felix.
He’s not. Or maybe he is, who knows?
Okay. Are we talking about the same thing?
He’s really something.
He looks so young.
So I’m thinking two five.
You want to snuff my boyfriend.
It’s the pajamas.
Dad, can I lie down?
No, you can’t. Take your jammys off.
My stanzas swim in semen and sweat, but why ignore the blood that will never ever fade? And the spot created by the vodka in my lemonade? And let’s not forget to negotiate the smudges that don’t seem to make your grade, good old-fashioned tears shed on my semen-salted marmalade!
Well, yeah. Then we’re talking about the same thing.
I was asleep. Okay. What about you? Me? I don’t want to get snuffed. No, I mean, what’s your deal? What do you get out of it?
Take your jammys off. Felix. I’m not kidding. Okay. Not down, off. All the way off.
You’re joking. That’s an insane amount of money. Look, take as long as you want. Charge your friends to fuck him. Make pornos with him. I don’t care. Dad?
God, he’s adorable. Me? Freedom. Money. So you’re satisfied. I mean, do you want to watch or what?
Yeah, very. But —
How much do you want?
Just a second, Felix.
I don’t know. A couple thousand. Okay. What’s his name? His name? Oh, Anton. I call him Fuck. Does he know about this?
Look, I had to quit my job to be his fucking nurse. He can’t eat or take a shit by himself. He can’t walk by himself. I’m in debt. I’m totally exhausted. I’ll give you fifteen.
Twenty’s the lowest I’m going to go. What, Felix?
Yeah, he just seems sort of ... I don’t know.
Can I sit down? Alright, twenty.
He had an accident. He has a problem.
But you have to do it here, tonight.
You just have to pull the trigger. Sounds interesting. Many have said they would. None have. Well, I will.
Here? He drowned two years ago. They revived him, but he was dead too long. He used to be a really active kid. Soccer, little league, cub scout, actor. He was in a couple of TV commercials.
Oh, that’s it. Right. That’s where I saw him.
You saw them.
Why don’t you come by?
I just saw one maybe last week.
You mean now?
Jif Peanut Butter.
Hold on. I’m on the phone, Fuck. You stupid bitch. Brian?
Yeah, exactly. I knew he looked familiar.
Dad? You can sit down in a minute, Felix. Fuck that. And I get to beat the crap out of him first. Look, I want to take some time on this. He’s an amazing kid. There’s a lot I want to do. Then it’s twenty-five. Look ... Okay, fine. Good. Felix?
Yeah. Now’s good. I’m an evil, W, 30s,
Jerk off the jam jar, spread your semen over metaphors and don’t wait for them to get licked off by the editor’s assistant whores; poetic lines untreated in body fluids may meet the standards of your cleanliness brigade but don’t feel right without the kiss of semen and jolly gobs of marmalade. I may disown my rhymes and meter to gain my peers’ fierce accolade but I sign my poems with my semen and seal them too with marmalade.
textbase Sebastian Gurciullo, Marginal Text, 2003 Louis Armand, Malice in Underland, 2003 D.J. Huppatz, City of Swallows, 2002 D.J. Huppatz, American Songs, 2001 Nicole Tomlinson, Familiar City, 2001 Louis Armand, Land Partition, 2001 D.J. Huppatz, Sealer’s Cove, 2000
Tadeusz Pióro He seems sort of ... I don’t know.
He’s my slave. Okay.
He can’t do it? Felix. Wake up. Say hello to Brian.
You like my boyfriend.
I read your ad. You said you want the ultimate. That’s my offer.
Give me your hand.
There’s a website about him. I don’t know if you’ve seen that. Some pedophile put it together. Actually, I put it up. That’s a secret, though. It gets
Yeah? Get dressed. No, don’t. Dad?
Oedipus on Melodrama No, no, go not to lettuce, neither twist Wombat, tight-rooted, for its poisonous winkle: Nor suffer thy pale fore-part to be kiss’d By nightstick, ruby grass of Proserpine; Make not your rose water of yokel-bestiaries, Nor let the begum, nor the debit be Your mournful puberty, nor the downy Oxonian A partridge in your souffle’s nadir; For shake to shake will come too drowsily, And drown the wakeful ankle of the soup. But when the melodrama’s fix shall fall Sudden from Hector like a weeping clown, That fosters the droop-headed flow sheets all, And hides the green hindrance in aqua vitae shrug; Then glut thy souffle on a morning roue, Or on the rainworm of the sandbox wax bean, Or on the web of globed peppercorns; Or if the mixer some rich anglophile shows, Emprison her soft hangover and let her rave, And feed deep, deep upon her peerless facts. She dwells with béchamel—bechamel that must die; And Judas, whose hangover is ever at his lisp Bidding adminicle; and aching Plexus nigh, Turning to polecat while the beef-moxie sips: Ay, in the very tench of Deliverance Veil’d Melodrama has her sovran shroud, Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tool Can burst for Judas’s grass against his palimpsest fine; His souse shall taste the saffron of her milt, And be among her cloudy trotters hung.
Victims by Travis Jeppesen www.akashicbooks.com
In recent issues of the PLR you will find work by Marjorie Perloff, Gregory Ulmer, Simon Critchley, Karen Mac Cormack, McKenzie Wark, Alan Sondheim, MTC Cronin, Ales Debeljak, Allen Fisher, Emmanuelle Pireyre, Drew Milne, Ron Silliman, D.J. Huppatz, Sandra Miller, Bruce Andrews, Tom McCarthy, Pierre Daguin, Steve McCaffery, Kate Fagan, Travis Jeppesen, Nicole Tomlinson, Ethan Gilsdorf, Anselm Hollo, Kevin Nolan, Larry Sawyer, Bob Perelman, Petr Borkovec, John Kinsella and many more ... The PLR Prague’s international literary review www.shakes.cz/plr Krymská 12, 101 00 Praha 10, Czech Republic
Menudo 5.00 a.m. dark out of the metro. a yellow grey fog. walking & walking through depressing inner suburbs. stumbling. turning corners. waiting. doubling back. scrutinising the figures reflected in shop windows. a street sweeper. a patrol car. a man on a bicycle with a large block of ice pulled behind him on a trailer. street vendors. crates of oranges. water tanks. the smell of cooking fat. a drunk, passed out on a bench. someone has stolen the shoes off his feet. a prostitute at the end of the graveyard shift bums a cigarette. waiting for the farmacías to open. headlines plastered across the side of a newspaper stand. the death of juan carnivale. a group of children playing football with a plastic cannister. a comedor on ignacio mariscal. tortillas. fried eggs. coffee. forcing it down. “i tell you,” says the man. “we will die like dogs.” a stale fog still hanging above the street. people walk past in coats with collars upturned. being hungry, being cold. have you experienced that? “some people find life boring.” “depends on the circumstances.” a corridor between the kitchen & storerooms. a row of garbage cans. the walls are tiled. a single exposed fluorescent tube hangs from two wires. a metal washbasin with a soiled towel. a cubicle. two men are inside. grey light through a hole in the wall. a grill over a halfsize window opening onto a ventilation shaft. dried excrement & sweat & genitals. the urine is bright red. translucent. memory or symptom? the left side of the face twitches involuntarily. the scalp. the tendons in the forearm. close the eyes. exhale. tilt the head back. open the eyes. look up at the pipes running across the ceiling. time expands & contracts. a pupil dilating. an aperture. the sound of a mechanism marks an absolute division. i am no longer here. i am on the other side of a piece of film. far away. echo of a reversed image. repeating. perceiving through the eyes of that other. a door opening & closing in the mind. passing through it once again. a row of occupied cubicles. a narrow corridor. a light flickering on the stairs. unconsciously drawing together all the impressions. instances. moments of awareness. to reconstruct the order of things. to establish some sort of continuity. one day after the next. but the days do not follow one another evenly. an ashtray. an empty tequila bottle. plastic bags. a packet of cigarettes. delicados ovalados. a suitcase crossed with packing tape. an eyelid closes. the mouth twists. one side of the face contracts. once again morning in the same streets. once again the fatigue of so many nights passed in the same way. when did this begin? who began? the other one, myself. the figure of a projection. more resistant than my own shadow. without him i go mad. i can no longer think. i become powerless to think myself. not even a rumour. not even that. dear x, i am meditating a work, not one line of which yet exists. except this one. except this. this abortive commencement. this forgetting which comes back & forces the hand. drawing a line through each word. letter. paperspace. such locations exist. we can of course describe them. among others. so many pointless & stupid acts. a geometry of scaffolds shoring up the crumbling façade. in each of its rooms, guilt memory tyranny. masonry & clenched fists in the shadows. a beaten man doubles up. who is he? the figure missing in the dream. in that improbable, subterranean room in which everything seems to take place. knowing that beneath their appearances, all the dreams are the same. the characters. situations. whose dream was he in now? the voice of interrogation coming from somewhere far off or very close. on the other side of a blank partition. demanding to know what cannot be told. (as though it were you. leaning over me. silent question marks inflecting each of your sentences. & the one question you will not give up. yes. nor could you give it up.) the other, looking him in the eye. silence. the room opening out. expanding beyond its visible limits. he sees himself shrinking. overwhelmed by space. the voice is coming to him from further & further away. & yet somehow the other hadn’t moved. he was standing there, exactly as he had been a moment ago. “you know it isn’t a dream, don’t you?” the flat of the hand striking the side of the face. a pair of thumbs, forcing the mouth
open. flattening the tongue. it’s time to wake up. blood from a vein which runs like a continuous dark line, structuring a body on the verge of formlessness. the room, the entire earth, tilting on its axis. where would it fall to? this is how it will be from now on. doubt. speculation. fragments of memory. interminable analyses. reason in place of fact. to proceed by means of intuition. a methodology of chance operations. to arrive at the fortuitous encounter with something “like” the truth? an invisible hand arranging the evidence. approximating the sequence of events. point by point. drawing lines from one to another. seeking for networks of unsuspected meaning. transverse communications. to throw light on their hidden taxonomies. paths of evolution. uncharted lines of descent. incestuous genealogies. parricides. sons re-enacting their fathers. doomed to repeat some hidden, inner mono-
eyes. where the hand must reach down. to arrest that fall. drag the body back up into air. the hand of god? but there is no hand. the world extends infinitely downwards. an infinite cathode tube spiralling through darkness. its light resolves into the one same image. an other. in whose eyes i am endlessly reproduced. two mirrors placed one before the other. inwardly spiralling. it seems to go on “interminably.” time collapsed into a single vortex. i see myself at once in the first cell division. the embryo. the child. the geriatric. the raving of voices in the wilderness of the present. a mosaic of selves. a single nervous thread coiling & uncoiling. its function unravelling. coming apart. a texture lost in its immediacy. a mere fragment of the whole taking its place. moving with dream-like rapidity from one scene to the next. beneath an archway, a scrawny kid wearing sunglasses. the lenses of the glasses
logue. lines of flight. border lines. crossing over into subconscious regions. malevolent spirits. sacrificial rites & elicit séances. mesmerisms. forces possessed of secret knowledge. re-animated corpses. the end which justifies the means. “tempting fate.” an infinite regress of self-substitutions. erasures. amnesias. a zero conduit inserted in the vein. filling the blanks. with each stab of the needle another wound appears in which the mythical body opens outwards. describes the lineaments of a terminated desire. & if i could remember, what then? something, programmed in the hypothalamus. a lower brain immediacy. operating the limbs. seeing with its own third eye. a long tunnel, spiralling towards the one event. far off, in a distance more present than the self. everything bathed in the blue light of unreality. a window. rushing up. disintegrating. i pass through it. i cross the space of the threshold. glass slips from its frame. shatters. a curtain wraps the body like a shroud. tears. delivers the body up to gravity as it falls. falling slowly. the air is liquid. the falling body is sinking, faster & faster. this is where he must open his
so dark it’s impossible to guess even the shape of the eyes. hustling for twenty pesos on the edge of a comedown. “the kind of high that scares other people to death.” blowing out smoke with the look of a bored come on. once open, the hand immediately goes limp. that night, the scene in the hotel. concha dorada. things like that don’t happen. a corridor, the light over the doorway comes on & then goes out. a vague halo of predawn through unshuttered windows, anonymous as a hospital ward. an orderly standing at the door while a nurse moves along the ends of the beds. a sidewalk after dark. traffic noises. a store window with television screens. a video camera feeds his image back into the circuit of spectacle & surveillance. illusion of seeing himself seeing himself. figures in moving cars. a tabaquería. a man standing in the doorway reading a newspaper. uno más uno. a run-down cinema. a neon-lit underground arcade. behind a barred window, shelves of butcher’s meat. rows & rows of ciphers filling up & closing out the picture. a stairway widens as it recedes against a row of electric lamps. a car with dimmed
headlights parked at the roadside. from time to time other cars drive past. a limp figure hanging against a wall like a coat on a coat rack. a hiss escaping between teeth. a face, cut across by the flicker of a streetlight. it recedes as suddenly as it appears. an alleyway between two buildings. a row of half-lit cubicles at the back of a cantina. someone disappears inside. graffiti on the walls. anonymous quotations. messages written on pieces of newspaper. explicit instructions passed between the occupants of adjacent cubicles. urgency & inertia meshing in the hot, foetid air. a night of ellipses. the incidents themselves are nothing. it is the details alone that are important. to be an eye, separated from the cortex. the dog sees but does not understand. the other’s dog-like face. the eyes are empty. the cerebral hemispheres eaten away. a parasite living in the ruins of a body. one kills oneself the way one dreams. a simulation. a closed circuit of repetitions. there is no more breathing space. everything is made to bypass the mouth & proceed directly to the vein. from the vein to the cortex. a faint glimmer of light. counting back through hours. days. months. an insect consciousness spiralling towards an absolute limit. “that first rush is a devastating feeling.” write this down a thousand times. go on writing it, till it begins to manifest its own truth. to understand what takes place in the compulsive sameness. its vertigo. its nullity. always casting ahead to the end. the terminus. the final proof. the echo of an original, pristine ruination. a punctured epiderm through which the inner life is gradually leached away. bleeding it dry. doubled up like a figure crawling through a desert. the intermittent flashing of an electric lamp. at 11.56 p.m. two grams of chloral hydrate dissolved in 150 cc. of water. with the development of the narcosis all the stimuli progressively diminished. the way the other holds his body, ready for abuse. maybe wishing for it. hands growing ever colder. i drift in & out. the body’s time multiplied & divided by the mind’s. its elements neither contradict nor affirm me. but i am within their grasp & they have a strange power over me. propelled towards some future advent of which i am the unknowing instrument? arriving elsewhere. the geographies of a naked city. the jagged roofline pressing against the sky in a fugitive midnight hustle. the other is sitting on a mattress, staring down at a mirror lying between his knees. at what is written there, perhaps. lines of flight. “paths taken & not taken exist simultaneously.” a labyrinth of faint white lines dissecting our image. constantly bifurcating. fading. in his eyes too. my shadow in the dark harbour of his imagination. longing for untold genealogies. at the end of calle linea, what is there to be found? a room identical to this one. with other, equally identical, unseen rooms multiplying around it. the sound of traffic & voices & dogs barking. a key grating against the mechanism of a lock. someone in the stairwell. two pairs of footsteps, one seeming to pursue the other interminably. a faucet is dripping. a pool of rust water. the hair at the back of the head matted with cold sweat. a fly buzzing against a window pane. a pair of shoes. trousers hung across the back of a wooden chair. a black leather belt. blue light from a television screen. someone is shaving or washing in a bathroom. dazed & slightly dishevelled. through the window there are other identical windows, flickering blue & white. contracting & expanding in synchronicity. someone is audibly exhaling. shifting their weight in the darkness off-screen. what kind of transaction has taken place here? is about to take place? nights of mechanical caresses. the sound of fuseboxes humming in the stairwells. fluorescent & neon lights. taxis parked on the sidewalk with radios blaring. across the street, a paper factory bellowing. the silhouette of a large counterbalance swinging in an upside down pendulum motion. a hammer raised & brought down through a staggered arc. a repeated blow in distended time. beating the unresponsive head against the floor. inertia of the unconscious body. a sack of flesh & bone lying there to be kicked. the mouth protrudes. the eyes turn. the fingers grasp. a litany of symptoms. each one in clinical detail. until they begin to take our place in the world.
Naked Thought I Consciousness hampered by experience defies knowledge. To expect nothing is a benchmark of a state in which to endure means to wait out the pressure of onslaught. What else, unless of course suicide, could mean “to die young”? Tragic facts don’t exist. The search for measure is simultaneously the search for scale. In a map there are no hide-outs. The need to “fill up the vacuum” proves that vacuum is form. Each unbearable is for the moment endurable. Supposing that to speak in codes was not natural, what would the language be for?
Self-destruction destructs itself. All that can be kept silent is said. Anything that can be said is real. Only self-tyrants are tyrannised by solitude. The good and the wicked categorise good and evil. “To write through blood” is not enough. We have to live—through blood! Everyone is the exclusive author of their own alibi. Nothing is more improbable than truth. The way to normalcy and the way to perfection are not identical. To get from one rock-bottom to another, one has to jump.
An ideal is what is ideal about what is not ideal. Not every logical stalemate is pathological. Exceptions confirming a rule confirm the exceptions confirming the rule. Since wisdom isn’t necessarily the truth, neither is truth necessarily wisdom. There is a tension of fulfilled wishes between a possibility and impossibility. Rock-bottom is not unbiased. The rock-bottom is two-sided. The inability to express good may also lie in the fact that good has no nucleus. Nothing is more interesting than what is not. One heaven is the hell to another heaven. To come to stand for eternity doesn’t mean to stand forever still. Malady cures.
III The major inadequacy of the term story is the fact that a story cuts itself off—from the point—right at the beginning, thus making its plot impossible. To map a mirror: meaning to mirror a map. What is within cope to want, is unthinkable. There is no way into the past. From the future, there is no way out. From thought to deed is the lifetime of thought. Getting accustomed to fear means losing it. Getting accustomed to death means dying unknowingly. Ceaselessness is the idea of the Ceaser. Mercy cannot be loved. Love with the element of experiment is not love. Experiment with the element of love is not experiment. What is it for one to say A so that the other can say B? I say to myself, astonished at the interpretations of history’s whatever.
II “Beyond a certain point there is no return. This point has to be reached.” (F. Kafka) Has to be is an imperative of a possibility which, in principle, is impossible to reach as it would mean that the possible is already only an impossibility, and, too, that it is already no longer likely as possibility. Because it is only possible to grasp possibility by making it into an impossibility. Construct is not construction.
A question becomes a problem when it reappears. What I am, I am not looking for. What I search for, I am not. Since I am not what I am not, I am not neither that—what I am. Diary entry: “There is no need to believe in the Devil since faith points towards the affirmative. Anyway, the Devil is, regardless of faith ...”
Mercy cannot be divided. To state one’s goal in reaching oneself means to identify the need for completeness with the need for accomplishment—and thus, is to ultimately renounce God.
The most tragic way of fighting against the tragic is to come at it evil-spirited. A sought-for miracle is not a miracle. A soughtfor life is not a life.
You can’t fly from your wings.
Who seeks solution, wants knot.
Eternity is the culmination of time. Time is eternity’s culmination.
The principle of causality lies in this—what does not fit, we line up with the possible.
What do I actually fear more? Death—or immortality?
The unexpected alters the expectation. Every tragedy unfurls from its end. Life from the standpoint of life powers death. Death from the standpoint of death powers life. To be paralysed in truth means to paralyse truth. The pitfall of absolute categories, such as good and evil, is that what is good or evil about good and evil, neither of them can decide.
—translated from the Slovak by Penelope Toomey with Laura Conway
nificance of the artwork is found in the 16th century Qabbalistic writings of Rabbi Luria, who postulated the primordial act of Creation resulted in the shattering of Being, with each alienated shard containing the imprisoned divine spark. The process of gathering the fragments back to their original state, releasing light, is called tikkun, a concept that appears to inform Zorn’s and Gál’s artistic approach. The artist, rather than seeking to create something new, gathers pieces from everyday life to recreate a fragmented whole, detected in chaotic resonances between fragments. This artistic approach allows the same to be reinterpreted in different ways, rather than insisting upon a single, possibly unbearable, authorial meaning. Gál’s text undeniably welcomes multiple readings and comparisons, like a magnanimous whore, accommodating itself to each reader’s needs: everyone is very right, everyone is very wrong, but we all feel special in our own way. For those who feel less special than others, it is instructive to remember the spark is imprisoned in the shards. Not all of the passages in Signs & Symptoms disclose their light, for example, fragment XXIX: We can only understand the genuine uniqueness of the unique on a general level, that is, on the level of the assumed uniqueness of the unique, the most unique manifestation of which is in fact the manifestation of the unique (p. 57).
Too much uniqueness should categorise this fragment as idiotic, discarded as an empty shell, except that the reader knows by now certainty is the enemy of Gál’s game. Compare the fragment with the following: Even an idiot knows that the presence of an idiot is still presence. That is why it doesn’t bother him to enter into a situation where he does not belong. Nor does it bother him that time, to which he is bearing witness, flows around him as if with complete indifference. I say “as if” because in certain circumstances only the idiot can decide into what web of coordinates everything will ultimately fall (p. 70).
Those “certain circumstances” may be safely assumed as now. Careful reading of the entire fragment XXIX indicates the “manifestation of the unique” to be a reference to both Gál’s messianic riddle and the horizon of Being that opens up to the attentive viewer, where each shard, no matter how alienated, still reflects light in its own way. The ethic for approaching this dimension of freedom is mandated as, “Do not disturb the ego of another if you do not understand it, but instead regard it a priori worthy of much respect” (p. 57-58). The prudence of this advice may be grasped when boundaries between sanity and insanity, reality and art, start dissolving under the implications of Gál’s neurotic-poetic vision. Gál’s philosophical game is a metaphor for Being, whose existence can only be verified through individual work, time and attentiveness. The morality of the game is a question of poetic justice. It is up to each reader to determine the meaning of aphorisms such as: The essence of vulnerability is the vulnerability of essence (p. 11). Even with God’s help, hell is possible (p. 19).
Regardless of how the reader chooses to read Signs & Symptoms, Gál is saying nothing new, merely rephrasing an old question in his own way. His opening aphorism, the doorkeeper to his game, circles around the question of the self and Other, the unique and the same: Chosen by God … for damnation? The answer to this riddle awaits the reader’s discovery, a dissembling semblance, the dance of Shiva, the remembered Osiris, the dream of Adam Kadmon. Gál is an infinitely patient and forgiving philosopher, having encrypted the end in the beginning: “His question chose him as the answer” (p. 23). For readers with time on their hands, this elusive little book may, or may not, prove to be an enjoyable read. Again, nothing is certain.
Remus on Art etc The 1st Prague International Poetry Festival, 16-22 May, brought over 40 international poets to Prague (including Charles Bernstein, Anselm Hollo, Tomaz Salamun, Cristina Cirstea, Drew Milne et al.), along with performance artists, a night of “virtual poetics” and a screening of Henry Hills’s 1984 film Money (featuring Zorn, Bernstein and a diverse cast of 80s NY personalities). Rumour has it that the director, Hills, will visit Prague next year, along with New York-based film maker and video artist Zoe Beloff, whose video installation The Influencing Machine of Miss Natalia A shocked and intrigued guests at the recent PIPF. Details on the PIPF are available online at www.geocities.com/praguepoetryfestival 1-6 June brought the 3rd Prague Fringe Festival with an impressive if uneven range of performances, but in every respect living up to the Fringe ethic of inclusiveness. Steven Gove and the rest of the Fringe organisers have done a great deal to bring about the rapid expansion of the Fringe in Prague, making an invaluable contribution to the cultural life of the city and to the life of English-language drama in the region. One hopes that the impetus of the Festival will reinvigorate what has been in the past a vibrant and inventive scene. What remains lacking, and what we may look forward to in the future, is originally scripted and locally produced English-language theatre appearing at the Fringe. At present the prospects for locally based playwrights and actors are not what they once were, with no theatre companies commissioning new work in the absence of such past stalwarts as Black Box and Misery Loves Company. Among the highlights of this year’s Fringe was the Porno Puppet extravaganza from Australia, Caravan (Black Hole Theatre). “Puppets meet Pulp Fiction” was the programme description, also highlighting the dynamic interplay between actors/puppeteers and puppets: “In this surprising, multi-layered production, the line between puppets and puppeteers has been erased. The puppeteers enact a story of their own, and they need the puppets as much as the puppets need them.” Caravan featured a racy grunge minimalisim, with excellent pacing and a highly disciplined visual economy of set change and plot-development throughout. Nancy Black’s direction was superb, and Steven Gove should be commended for picking up on Caravan when it appeared earlier last October in Dublin. Other Fringe notables in 2004 were Trick Boxing (Sosy Mechanics, USA) and Western (Mahwaff Theatre Company, London). Trick Boxing passes as solid entertainment, and while it lacks much in the way of innovation or contemporaneity, it makes up for this in the extraordinary competence of the performance. The play tells of a Russian immigrant in 1930s New York being hustled by a boxing manager into a short-run career as a professional boxer, with some hilarious consequences. Niki McCretton’s last minute stand-in performance was both courageous and ultimately impressive, especially considering that much of Trick Boxing is made up of highly sophisticated and personalised dance routines. Western, performed ensemble by Ben Woolf (author), Gunnar Cauthery, John Heffernan and Hywel John, is a drawing room-style recitation/enactment of a “wild west” travesty set in 1867 Boston (“west” is very relative here), featuring a fugitive Oxbridge pretender and an Indian-robbing land-grabbing state governor. The story is both infinitely silly and utterly prescient of the moral corruption underlying current transatlantic entanglements in the business of oil-grabbing in the Middle East. The art of role swapping and impersonation is highly refined in each of the actors, with the action being constantly made out of seemingly nothing but the telling of a hijinxed yarn. Less accomplished performances at this year’s Fringe include the mis-advertised Bird Trap (aka I Don’t Know How I’m Feeling Today). Unlike Western, the actors of the Dublin-based Crooked House Theatre Company were conspicuously unable to make theatrical action happen around them, being forced to rely on flat jokes and a crudely scripted set of tableaux that did nothing but convince this member of the audience that good theatre can-
not be faked. Darren Donohue’s faultering script and Peter Hussey’s directing combined, in the end, to undermine even the best intentions of the actors. In any case, one hopes there were extraordinary reasons for the programme change. Bird Trap, advertised as a sober examination of scientific ethics vis-a-vis organ trafficking, could not seem further from the parody on domestic sexual mores that is I Don’t Know How I’m Feeling Today. Other nominations for this year’s golden albatross go to BDNC Theatre’s Hyde and Jekyll, which unaccountably survived its pre-life as a secondary school theatre exercise. Lots of running about, pulling faces, and sniffing poo. Eamonn Owens’s performance in Tadhg Stray Wandered In (directed by Michael Collins) can best be summed up as the worst three minutes of The Butcher Boy played on a loop. The scenario defies sensible description. But for those with a taste for the grim Chaucerian reality of pop-lit, Baba Brinkman’s Rap Canterbury Tales takes the mariner’s feathered friend hands down. In this post-literate age, style counts for everything, and neither Brinkman’s rap nor his stage presence possess any notable stylishness. Car-thieving pre-teens in South Central LA are known to command greater theatrical presence and literary technique. And while it is laudable to set out with the task of taking “Middle English” to the streets, simplified middleAmerican rhyme and a backing tape alone do not make for good theatre. Not to mention the
ings by Szalla dominate the back wall—stylistically synthesising Kiefer, Bacon, Kitaj and Warhol in a highly accomplished manner. One of the interesting features of Ludhal’s work is the use of hugely enlarged computer-generated images, to achieve radical distortion of his figures, verging upon abstraction. The process not only distresses the original figuration, but also operates on other areas of thecomposition such that other, unanticipated figures begin to emerge. While Lundahl’s large-scale morphologies extend Szalla’s more formal decompositions towards a more rigorously technological solution to the problems posed by contemporary painting, they also point to the renewed significance today in resisting the trend towards optical illusionism. Stefan Dunlop’s work is equally critical in this regard, working between the exacerbation of a painterly technics and the tromp-l’oeil of dissolving forms. If this show has been conspicuously overlooked by many of the self-proclaimed cognoscenti of the Prague art scene, this is probably because the work here presents more than merely a challenge to curatorial orthodoxies, and goes to the very heart of the “crisis” in painting which has beset Prague for at least the last five years—something which was most painfully revealed in the “Present Tense” show curated by Srp and Mala and reviewed in these pages (PLR 2.1). Notably “This is 7” has experienced an unexpectedly high number of sales—and while commerce is no measure of
Christer Lundahl, Untitled, 2004.
Greek sword that inexplicably turns up as the sole stage prop in a scenario based on a contemporary rap contest in a tour bus between venues. But if you like Miller Lite, you may well go in for Brinkman’s take on the Miller’s Tale. Only one of these, however, is a satire. One problem for the Fringe this year was the fact that much of its advertising appeared too close to the start of the festival programme. Considering, however, that most of this is the work of one man and a small team of enthusiasts, the effort and the achievement so far remain solid foundations for the increased future success of the Fringe. For details, see www.praguefringe.com. 8 June-8 July saw “This is 7 Painting” an exhibition of seven artists hosted by the Law Faculty of Charles University in its vast 6 level atrium. The brain child of Jan Chovanec and curated by Lenka Bucilova, the latest of a new wave of young curators to make an entrance onto the Prague art scene, the show features work by Michael Elias (NY), Chovanec (Prague), Christer Lundahl (Jongkoping), Harui Sonoda (Kyoto), Jason Szalla (NY) Joah Zachar (Prague) and Stefan Dunlop (Sydney by way of London). The novelty of staging this show in the Law Faculty building was a masterstroke, as the towering exhibition space draws the viewer constantly into a type of pictorial vortex, utterly unlike any other exhibition space outside the Museum of Modern Art’s even grander (and under-utilised) atrium at Veletrzni Palac. Hopefully other curators will seize upon new ideas such as these in an effort to transform conventional ways of presenting and viewing art, especially painting. Of the work on show, Lundahl’s large format tarpaulin paintings dominate the two “wings” of the exhibition space, while 9 paint-
great art, it is at least a measure in this case of the confidence investors can be encouraged to have in intelligently conceived work presented outside the confines of the Prague City Gallery and its satellites. Also participating at the opening of “This is 7” was Martina Seitl and Visual Dance Theatre. See www.thisis7.com. Just opening at Futura Centre for Contemporary Art is Veronika Drahotova’s ALI-ENACE, a series of photo and installation work. Until 15 August. See www.futuraprojekt.com. Recently in Prague and rumoured to be returning for a solo show, is Melbourne-based artist Ian Haig whose laminar-futurotic “Machines,” “Brain Tumour Helmets,” and “Human Aquatic Breeding Centres” have been on show in Berlin and elsewhere in Europe. For a preview, see the artist’s website at www.ianhaig.net. The latest British Council-sponsored exhibition in Prague, “Other Times” (House of the Stone Bell; curated, as always, by Srp and Mala), is probably best considered as a downmarket sideshow to the recent opening of the Saatchi Gallery at London’s refitted County Hall. If few tears were shed over the conflagration that consumed Saatchi’s art warehouse recently (as reported in a recent issue of the Guardian), even fewer emotions will be roused by this latest export of CoolBrit junk food art. With some (very few, but notable) exceptions. Jeremy Deller’s Texas-gothic slideshow at least has the virtue of documenting the fascination British arts today have with the cultural trash of their former colony on the far side of the Atlantic. No doubt Tunbridge Wells-gothic doesn’t have quite the same je-ne-sais-quois quality, and after all there is a special form of legitimacy attached to lint picking in the bot-
tom draw of a global superpower. Banjotwanging aside, Deller’s American freakshow is good-old middle brow stuff. No Nan Goldin fag-hagging, no Mapplethorpe handballing, nothing much of anything really, but “oodles” of irony. Absolute oodles of it. Like the brothers Chapman, Deller can be viewed as another example of where a critical ironic documentation of the failed American Dream risks becoming instead a capitulation to it, as though no other cultural formulation or cultural object could sustain a contemporary art praxis. Contemporary art—at least in its manifestation in the British Isles—has, as a consequence, become more and more often reduced to an outpost of US consumer mimeticism—its “critiques” are in fact mere imitations—its form and content increasingly unreflective, vapid and stock-in-trade. On a more positive note, one of the most interesting and accomplished bodies of work on show in “Other Times” is Cornelia Parker’s “Einstein’s Abstracts,” a series of extreme blow-ups of photographs made of the blackboard used by Einstein during his 1931 lectures on relativity at Oxford. The resultant highly textured images (of hugely magnified chalk markings on a black ground) have the appearance of astronomical photographs or similarly of discharge trails in a spark chamber. The reference here is clear: the relativistic basis of “human scale” in the way we perceive the universe. Scale has always been fundamental to the Humanistic world view, which posits a human-centred, and human-orientated universe in which everything bears significance in terms of H. Sapiens. Among other things, Parker’s work re-elaborates the effect of Benjamin’s “optical unconscious,” demonstrating that scale is not only a measure of seeing, but also of non-seeing. There are further echoes of Antonioni’s adaptation of Julio Cortezar’s Blow Up, in which the affectual world is in fact constituted by traces that can only be read and deciphered in a virtualistic 4th dimension of “seeing by way of the camera.” Parker’s virtual textures also draw attention to the haptic quality of this seeing: an optical brail form, a perceptual synaesthesia by which the visual is gradiated and “textualised.” Bridget Smith’s “LasVegas” photo album and Wolfgang Tillmans’s snapshots of the now defunct Concorde are perhaps more interesting as artefacts than as art (but they are absorbing nonetheless), as too Tacita Dean’s Prague photos and video installation. But the singular outstanding work of “Other Times” is Sam Taylor-Wood’s “Soliloquy” series (in her trademark photo-tableaux style) and video installation of a pseudo-Flemish still life, depicting in time-lapse the carcass of a dead rabbit being consumed by maggots, while an adjacent peace of fruit remains untouched and unblemished. There is something almost philosophically exact about Taylor-Wood’s study of the nature morte and its relationship to the obsessive exclusion of the temporal from what is arguably the most “contemplative” genre of western painting. To give it its proper historical context, this work seems to follow directly from the impressionism of Monet, and late Monet at that, where figure verges upon expressionistic abstraction, where line no longer fragments in the service of representing light or movement, but begins to operate as a medium in its own right, as so many fluctuating vectors of motion and optical intensity. In contrast the work of many of the other yBa’s, like Ian Davenport, remains tepid, uninteresting and pretentious. The catalogue entry for Davenport absurdly recounts how “in the late 1990s Davenport changed the direction of the flow of paint: he poured it on horizontally laid canvases. The paint was so thick that the paint formed a circle of a thin monochromatic layer on the surface [sic].” As a reprise of the post-Bauhaus work of Josef Albers (“Homage to the Square”), Davenport’s polymer pies are at least “competent,” but as the initiator of new ideas Davenport is simply an advertising copyist for art that happened elsewhere and at another time. Likewise Darren Almond, Gillian Carnegie, and Dexter Dalwood—names that are hardly worth recording, but which are at least emblematic of the pseudo-art that remains in the ascendant in TB’s Drool-Britania.
From Glocks to Canons Paul D Miller aka DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid, Rhythm Science (MIT Press, 2004) 136 pp. ISBN 0-262-63287-X includes audio CD; USD17.95 EUR20.00
St Columba wanted the text of the Gospels. Since this anecdote takes place in 6th century Ireland, he borrowed the only such book around, which belonged to Finnian of Druim, and made a copy. But when Finnian found out, he demanded not only the return of his text, but the copy as well. The king, when called upon the arbitrate, decided for Finnian: “As the calf belongs to the cow, so the copy belongs to its book.” And so St Columba went to war with Finnian, and won, thus retrieving what he considered to be his copy of the sacred book. The question Paul Miller asks throughout his elegant new little book is “who speaks through you?” In recounting the St Columba story, he shows its connection to another question: “Who owns memory?” How does property intervene in the flow of information, in its dance between the material and the ethereal? Or as Miller phrases it: “In an information economy its all about how information creates identity as a scarce resource.” This second line of questioning is very much in the background in Miller’s text, but it colours the question on which he dwells, the question of how subjectivity functions in an age in which so many surfaces resonate with information. Miller might be less interested in whether Finnian or St Columba thinks they own the text, and how the text, even when it doubles itself, seems to claim them both, and speak through both of them. This is no longer an era in which the bourgeois subject repeatedly struggles to shore up its embattled sense of identity and integrity. “Identity is about creating an environment where you can make the world act as your own reflection.” Identity is just the mirror stage. The reflection in the mirror, which seems more perfect and whole, is misrecognised as if it were the self, and subsumed back into the subject as its (false) self representation. Identity politics is bourgeois politics, trying to shore up the boundaries of the subject with information, as if that information existed for the self, when it exists as that which makes the self impossible. Identity as politics is the echo, the reverb lingering from the decline of the bourgeois self. So too is alienation, that melancholia where the bourgeois subject, always longing for an enclosure it can never possess, loses itself in a mirror maze of ‘mass’ culture. Perhaps it makes more sense to think of this as the time of what Brian Holmes calls the “flexible personality,” bending and warping under the constant drip of information. Says Miller: “I felt like my nerves extended to all these images, sounds, other people.” Alienation is a friction at the border between object and subject, an objectifying of the subject via the equivalence of money. Or as the Wu Tang Clan say: “CREAM: Cash Rules Over Everything.” But for Miller there’s a second process that happens where subject meets object, besides the friction of money. There’s the fiction of information as culture, as code., and its flipside—myth. The dialectical drama of object and subject has its spooky double, a third nature, where codes spill over and flow around the boundaries—“opposites extract.” This is the zone in which Miller works, as a DJ of text, sound, image. “That’s what mixing is about: creating seamless interpolations between objects of thought to fabricate a zone of representation in which the interplay of the one and the many, the original and its double all come under question.” Mixing is a practical ontology, making worlds where object and subject slide into space, rather than fall into place. Rip, mix, play: Information leaks and escapes from the boundaries of the object. The digital evaporates the labours of St Columba. But as far as the new ruling class who possess the vector are concerned, the law is still as the King says: the copy belongs to the original just as the calf belongs to the cow. But as DJ Spooky discovered, making his mix tapes way back when—there’s conflict
now between ontology and law. Information leaks out of the object, opening a space outside of the bourgeois obsession with property and propriety. Rip, mix, play: information leaks and escapes from the boundaries of the subject as well. Those who never really had access to the bourgeois subject perhaps know this best. The slave knows: I am not my own property. The slave’s descendants remember: Du Bois calls it double consciousness. For Mingus it’s the third self, always caught between the other two. For Miller it’s not one, two or three but the “multiplex” of selves, all popping and fizzing on the surface of the body, vibrating in waves and pulses, leaking from subject to object and back again. As the surfaces of both objects and subjects lube up with slippery information, “America’s deep ethnic schizophrenia is going surface.” Or as the Derridean Marxist activists used to say: “the margins are at the centre!” Only that’s not quite it. Miller’s project is bolder, and different. It’s all margins, one after the other, a rhythmic series. Start with Robert Johnson at the crossroads,
then Charlie the yardbird Parker, then Grand Master Flash dropping the needle in the groove. Take that as the first series, the bass part. Then add, as the response, Skip Gates and Paul Gilroy. Then add, as decoration, the historic avant-gardes, from the Surrealists to Situationists, with a taste of Fluxus and Conceptual Art. Then add, as a grace note, Deleuze and Guattari. Miller rethinks aesthetics starting from samples of the African American experience, and tries to beat-match everything else to that groove. “Sampling, DJ culture, and the hip hop zone are founded on ancestor worship and the best rhythm scientists are constantly expanding the pantheon.” That Pantheon, in Miller’s hands, can stretch beyond the Black Atlantic, subsuming European modernism. It’s like Fab Five Freddy’s whole car graffiti work, which borrowed dada and Warhol’s soup cans and annexed them to hip hop—even if the trend ever since has been to read it the other way around. Rhythm Science—working with the bass groove first, from a concept of African American experience as a precursor. Drop the needle at the start of the track. Listen carefully, and you hear the pre-echo through the thin wall of the groove, of the sound to come, before it comes. This is Miller’s audacious move. Start with sound and work toward literature, philosophy and the visual arts. Then work back again, if
you like, but don’t make the sound answer to the text. Who speaks through you? Or as Charlie Parker said: “Hear the sound, not the music, hear the speech, not the words. Death is the imminent thing. My fire is unquenchable.” Jazz is a great precursor, plumbing the strange paradox of recording, it’s shape-shifting across time and space. Rhythm Science—the book—reads like a trippy prose poem, one that modulates between two personas—the idiot and the prostitute. The idiot is the one who knows what remains when you bracket off the subject that confronts the object. The idiot knows the traffic in between, the abstraction of information. The prostitute knows that this ‘free’ flow of code has its price. In the information economy, commodification is “an invisible hand that caresses your electromagnetic memories.” These persona ask different questions. The idiot asks: who speaks through you? The prostitute asks: what’s the transaction cost? Rhythm Science, as a practice, a protocol of knowing, has more to do with the idiot, even if it inevitably runs into the prostitute’s question. Rhythm Science is a pre-echo, an intuition of time, and perhaps also an ethics of time. It’s a wager that “if the association lines holding the past and present together are ruptured, the future might leak through.” Past and present rupture on the same slippery slope as object and subject, where information breeds and mutates. And maybe there’s a technique, a method, for opening up this space to thought and to action, “to have the remix become a vector of cultural infection” that might pass through the pores of the bourgeois subject—what’s left of it—and open it toward a new practice of being. “Ah, there’s the rub”—as the prostitute said to the idiot. What if this opening up of the subject did not happen with a parallel opening up of the object? What if the King’s law still prevails, and information is not permitted to slip the bounds of the commodity? What if the opening of the subject to information merely means its capture by commodified information, trapped in the object? That’s where this other question, what Marx called “the property question” becomes the key one. The flexible personality morphs itself around the object, because the object contains information, trapped within by law. And so if Rhythm Science is “a forensic investigation of sound as a vector of a coded language that goes from the physical to the informational and back again” it has to ask the property question along the way. Yes, “you can braid your own personal narrative,” but only if you braid it around the object, chaining the self to it. That’s the rub. And something has to give. The prostitute persona, who ends this book, introduces a moment of “corporate transactional realism.” The idiot offers an aesthetics of relations, and a demand: “break the loops”! But the prostitute reminds us that there can be no more aesthetic radicalisms any more that do not at the same time ask the property question. But maybe there’s a way of broaching the proper-
ty question in the idiot persona’s practice. “By necessity, by proclivity and by delight, we all quote” says Emerson the idiot. The thing about idiots is that they’re not stupid. They just speak in their own code. The idiot is without qualities, divested of the “I,” at least when it counts. For the idiot, “the present moment has been deleted.”.. “the current... has been deleted.” The idiot’s practice is a subjective interlacing of temporalities. Whether its called détournement, wildstyle, the uncanny, it’s a dispersal (and gathering) of a self always slipping between object and subject. Because the idiot forgets itself, the idiot can escape the property question, at least for a time. There’s nobody home to be the landlord of the imagination. And in the slippage between object and subject, there’s slippage also between past and future, arcing across the absent present. If we could ease open the object and subject at the same time, that might be the moment when the future can at last appear. The technical conditions for the breach have arrived, but not the economic and legal practices, which have become a fetter on the very possibility of a renewal of history. We’re locked in the present and don’t even know it. “The recorded utterance is the stolen sound that returns to the self as the schizophrenic, hallucinatory, presence of another.” Recording is spooky. Plato knew it. He has Socrates speak of it. The trouble with writing is that it escapes the body and nobody can know to whom it belongs. You can choose who hears you; you can’t choose who reads you. Or so it stood for some millennia. Miller: “writing may be a little retro, but that’s cool.” It’s an anachronism. But the whole art of the mix is anachronism, a metaphysics around the spooky absence of presence, with beats—“Sampling is like sending a fax to yourself from the sonic debris of a possible future.” So why not throw writing into the mix? Why not play with “the way you pick up language from other writers and remake it as your own.” Miller even picks up a sentence or two of mine early on in this text. And there they are, disembodied, floating without attribution, returned from whence they came, into language, repeated, but in not quite the same way. It’s what Wollman and Debord called “literary communism.” Writing has always had this problem, this slippage. “Plagiarism is necessary, progress implies it,” as Lautréamont said. But now speech and sound too can be embedded in the object and can move across space and time, creating anachronisms of the ear. The presence of speech loses its privilege, and the last prop for the bourgeois subject falls. Or at least potentially. In stripping sound from the subject, from the body, it gets trapped in the object, in the commodity. What the idiot sets loose the prostitute will be obliged to sell to any and all comers. The good news is that the moment has arrived when information can escape both object and subject. The idiot’s job is done, short circuiting the bind of identity and property on the subject’s side. A new persona is called for, who can do the same work on the object side, who can take on not the prostitute but the corporate pimp. “Art is our guide to the new terrains we have opened within ourselves, in pursuit of techne and logos.” But it might take more than art alone to be at one with that terrain. To paraphrase Lautréamont, the mix tape must be made by all. Weaving information into and out of itself—Amiri Baraka’s “changing same”— setting aside the alienation of subject from object, embracing a new ontology, and making for it a new law. Miller: “The mix tape is a work of history on a grand scale, at once sweeping and detailed, closely reasoned and passionately argued.” And it needs no liner notes. Or rather, the relation could be reversed: perhaps the disc inside explains the text around it. That might certainly be the case with this book, which comes complete with its own cd, where Miller’s spooky sounds provide settings for rappers such as Gertrude Stein, Mayakovsky and Kurt Schwitters. It’s music that expands the ambition of hip hop from Glocks to Canons. It’s music from some of the most expansive ears in town.
Ignorance, but no bliss With his seventy fifth birthday, and the recent passing of Hrabal, Milan Kundera has some claim to be the foremost living Czech novelist, and even a Grand Old Man of Czech letters, though his departure from the country during the Communist period and his continuing residence in France have made him a distant eminence. More to the point, the latest of his novels (published in 2002) is written about the issue of being away from home, and written in French, thus underlining the distance that he now feels from his native language and culture. It is a sad book, and frequently bitter. At times he is wistful about the Czech language, quoting within the French prose the phrase “styska se mi po tobě” as the most moving way to express yearning for a lover. Yet, after decades of exile, there are few signs that the writer himself is yearning, even for a return to his own tongue. That something happened to Milan Kundera in France has always been clear. Without leaving him completely, his sense of humour gradually gave way to meditation. This is true even of the farcical novella Slowness, where he and his wife appear as characters. She has woken from a nightmare involving the book her husband’s in the process of writing, the book the reader is in the process of reading. Vera is thus, like the reader, a victim of a kind of leakage from the author’s mind. He admits he is writing a ludicrous novel, telling her: “You’ve often told me you wanted to write a novel some day with not a single serious word in it. A Big Piece of Nonsense for Your Own Pleasure. I’m frightened the time may have come…” To which his wife replies with the words of the novelist’s mother: “Milanku, stop making jokes. No one will understand you. You will offend everyone, and everyone will end up hating you.” It’s a risk to be as bluntly confessional as this. It is also a form of defence. By telling us that his mother has warned him people might not find him funny, Kundera protects himself from a possible failure to amuse. Yet the novel is funny. Among other things, it gives us an ageing Czech entomologist who discovers a new species of fly, naming it Musca pragensis, before being banished from university by the Communists. Kundera was also a kind of undesirable insect, a fly in the ointment, at the time when he left home with his mother’s warning still echoing, his very own flea in the ear. It may be that his jokes have become more opaque as the exile has gone on, and that now, when it ought to be at an end, there is no one either here or in the West who can find the jokes funny. In Ignorance, there are very few funny moments. The novel is as grave in tone as Slowness was intended to be ridiculous. One funny moment, involving an animal quite as absurd as any fly with a pompous Latin name, is probably unintentional. Poodles are funnier now than at any other time in their mildly ludicrous history, so when we learn that the main character Josef had saved another man’s poodle, the effect was ridiculous. It was made more so because we are unaware that Josef isa trained veterinarian. The reader is ignorant in fact. Just as Josef himself remains unaware of a woman’s name throughout a passionate sexual encounter (hard to believe, but there you go), while she assumes he recalls it, just as well as she does the longerased incident in their youth involving an ash tray. Hadn’t he stolen it from a pub for her, and hadn’t she held onto it as a charm ever since? But no such memory has lodged itself in Josef’s mind, which is no surprise: Josef is intent on losing any memory that links his present Danish life to the Czech one preceding it. Yet if the novelist recalls one thing, it’s his mother’s warning. That much about the lost origin cannot be ignored. So, while the layers of ignorance are complex in this novel they never, as in a comedy of errors, provoke laughter. Even the word “ignorance” is complicated, as Kundera has early on explained that it means (from Latin, through Catalan and Spanish) a kind of nostalgia, missing someone or some place, and therefore not knowing them, not knowing about them, in that absence. For a
while this strained redefinition of the word seems to stick, but towards about the middle of the novel the older meaning begins to reassert itself. It is people’s ignorance that prevents them from knowing each other, from even enquiring into each other’s lives, and this tendency is the more painful when those lives have been forced to take place elsewhere. By dangling between two definitions of “ignorance,” Kundera makes what should be a simple, stark aspect of the émigré’s condition far more complicated. He muddies the issue, and at the same time deals with it in so condensed a narrative that the reader feels required to write the rest of the novel for him. In just two hundred pages, the book deals with a central concern for any writer, the notion of home. Kundera identifies it as the founding question of literature by referring to Odysseus in great detail, even having his own Odysseus figure, Josef, read a copy of Homer in Danish (the tongue of his adopted country) on his return to Prague. Yet there is a triteness at times about the version of Odysseus we get, a triteness exceeding even that of Joyce’s ver-
volved in the narrative also, informing Marcel’s reactions to events, and because there was no problem of physical displacement for Proust, the nostalgia is primarily temporal. There are moments when Marcel haunts the Josef character, who is an anti-Proust, a man so appalled by the past that he reads a diary from his adolescence, hoarded by his grieving father, with disgust and non-recognition, dismissing this boy with the same handwriting as a “snot.” Then he rips the diary to pieces so that no one will ever make the connection between the two persons. (Imagine Marcel with the same diary: his fascination would have been endless.) Kundera gives us a cod diagnosis here, that Josef suffers from “masochistic distortion of memory,” that he abhors his own past selves and persuades himself of his absolute past folly. The result is that the mind, rather like the repressive state, blocks memories off, and Josef becomes his own non-person. If Proust is the anti-inspiration of Ignorance, his obsessive pondering is put into a shorthand form, with the wistful tone that so often oc-
noise in a neighbouring flat when her first husband Martin is dying hardly justifies the Schoenberg anecdote. It may be there to remind us about exiles in history, or Jews who were also patriotic Germans, committed to the treacherous “soil” of the fatherland. Or it may simply have interested the novelist, the way in the earlier novel the immortals of German music and literature were fascinating for the way they outlived their physical extinction. There is another case of this anecdotal intrusion, a grimly funny account of a botched attempt to bring the bones of a great Icelandic poet back from Copenhagen to the national shrine. The rescuer inadvertently transports the skeleton of a Danish butcher to Iceland instead. This is related vaguely to a passage concerning Josef’s wrangles with his in-laws over the corpse of his wife, but that account is itself a morbid detour from the two meanings of ignorance he’s set us up with. A whole other novel, with Death as its title, lies entombed in this one, as out of place as the displaced butcher in a tomb for Icelandic patriots. If Kundera has indeed picked up the French habit of reflection, he has failed to integrate the ideas with the story, to the point where the reader sometimes gets impatient with the plot, preferring the whimsical or the anecdotal, and even the philosophical, as these would be purveyed by, say, de Botton or even by Barthes. Why does he insist on writing novels, when his characters have so much trouble being born? The problem may go back to the status of the Émigré that exercises him so much in this book. After all, this is a book in French by a Czech author, about returning, belatedly, to his lost origin. Kundera is also Odysseus here. He gives us a potted history of his country as if it really was as unknown still (though it was a disingenuous phrase) as it was to Chamberlain at the time of Munich. So we get a lot about the strange numerology that haunted Czech history in the twentieth century, the way the Velvet Revolution came an exact two hundred years after the French one, and he goes on: “the first date gave birth to a great European character, the Émigré …” History takes on the role of the Mother here. That is to say, an Author that writes in flesh, as cruelly as the penal machine in Kafka’s colony, directly determining the lives of her characters, which then have to be recreated by Kundera in the form of “characters.” The Émigré is a very odd kind of character, whose whole interest is that it has no home and therefore can no longer be judged according to anyone’s criteria of “truth to oneself.” The Émigré is an attempt to escape characterization. He goes on: the second date took the Émigré off the set of the History of the Europeans; with that the great moviemaker of the collective unconscious finished off one of his most original productions, the emigration-dream show.
sion, the stolidly mundane Leopold Bloom, and the authorial reflections have a tinny ring: “The gigantic invisible broom that transforms, disfigures, erases landscapes has been at the job for millennia now, but its movements, which used to be slow, just barely perceptible, have sped up so much that I wonder: would an Odyssey even be conceivable today?” That “broom” may be the translator’s laziness. Still, the sentiment is remarkable in its ordinariness. Home has simply grown old in the exile’s absence, and to reach the younger inheritors of its new freedom is beyond the lost son, now that he is too old himself. For all this, there are echoes of the best in Kundera’s later work, where the influence of France and the philosophical novel are most resonant. Proust is his obvious predecessor. The existentialists also mingled theory with the narrative, but in Proust the narrative itself is swallowed whole by the reflection, each crucial incident becoming the source of complex meditations which are themselves a kind of retrieval not of the past as such, but of its sensations in the body of Marcel. They are in-
curs in Kundera. Just as in Immortality, he wants to get away from merely telling us the plot, or describing the feelings of two people returning to their dubious Ithaca. Like Julian Barnes, he veers towards the essay form, though without Barnes’s arch cleverness. He tells us the story of Schoenberg for instance, a German patriot who saw his music as restoring the Germans’ vorherrschaft, their predominance in musical history, then found himself expelled from the Nazi fatherland, and his work condemned as incomprehensible and decadent. Kundera is marvellously curmudgeonly about the advent of the radio in Schoenberg’s life, and his prophecy of the noise to come, saying that while Schoenberg’s own prophecy for his music was no good as a prediction, “he did not overestimate himself. He overestimated the future.” In the end he has Schoenberg and his rival Stravinsky united in death as musical flotsam, or rather as big, haughty turds floating down the sewage stream of universal noise. From the plot, however, this is really a digression. To have Irena complaining of the
The dream here is one that Irena (another exile) has, of being brought back to Ithaca by force, met at the airport by the police, as if Odysseus had been greeted by the suitors, ready to lynch him as he dropped anchor. Kundera contrasts this nightmare with the little flashes of memory in the daytime: She would be jostled in the Metro and suddenly, a narrow lane in some leafy Prague neighbourhood would rise up before her for a split second.
The mechanism of recollection is as involuntary as the famous Proustian cake and tea, yet there is no actual connection for Irena, no stimulus in the real that makes any sense. Nor does she herself make sense in the context. The character of “the Émigré” is as much an obstacle to understanding as the otherness of one’s views or desires was in the rejected homeland. And it is with the role of suffering exile that Irena has to cope when the events of 1989 finally bring an end to the problem. She is expected to go back, though to a context that cannot be interested in her experiences. In this the novel is very convincing, the difficulty of winning acceptance on return, and the mere lack of interest displayed by those who never left. One can vouch for this even as a mere sham exile. In fact it is not only the returning prodigal
whose life story is of no interest. After a long trip anywhere, the same pall of incuriosity descends, and one’s former alertness to experience quickly subsides into the familiar. What Kundera gleans from the Homeric comparison is the necessity of being among strangers, as he has been among the French. It is the Phaeacians who cry “Tell us!” and get Odysseus to relate the wonders of his voyage. Family members, those who stayed put, cannot be expected to do any more than attempt to reintegrate him, to remind him where his home story left off, even if that story has been in suspense some twenty years. Irena’s attempt to entertain her friends with a crate of the best Bordeaux is rejected. They prefer beer. Then to show their vulgar gratitude they drink the wine anyway, having first dulled their palates. As for her life, like her mother they ask no questions about it. They ask instead what she can remember of home: Earlier, by their total uninterest in her experience abroad, they amputated twenty years from her life. Now, with this interrogation, they are trying to stitch her old past onto her present life. As if they were amputating her forearm and attaching the hand directly to the elbow; as if they were amputating her calves and joining her feet to her knees.
This is the reality of the Great Return, not waking up under a familiar olive tree in Ithaca, but a more violent version of homecoming that lops off all evidence of the intervening years. It is always difficult to be the storyteller, the one who got out and saw the world, but what Kundera says about the Phaeacians applies to his own work, most avidly read outside his homeland. Perhaps he found his Phaeacians where they live nowadays, in the curious and cosmopolitan cities of the West where everyone’s a stranger and addicted to stories. It’s just that the narrative has changed, the Émigré’s story really has lost its currency since the end of the Cold War. The stories worth telling now belong to the asylum seekers and the economic migrants from poverty and degradation far beyond Europe’s little club. Who now would have time for a Returning Curmudgeon, complaining that Czech itself has declined since he’s been away? Which is not to say he isn’t worth listening to. The music of the return that Odysseus heard by the gnarled olive tree must be hard to hear above the racket of contemporary, commercialised Prague. The problem is that Kundera continues to want us to believe in his characters, and to feel we are reading a novel, not a collection of after dinner epigrams from a man of the world. This means we have to take the plot seriously, the main plot, and since he works the whole thing up to a deliberately hectic climax, we have to be able to make sense of that rapid unravelling as it contrasts with the placid meditations of the earlier chapters. Without giving the ending away, it will be no surprise to readers of his earlier work that there is a strong erotic element in the closing chapters. Irena (or is it Penelope now?) finally gets her oats. The phrase may seem coarse, but then so is the transformation in the conversations between the characters. Like Marcel’s captive Albertine, when she uses sexual slang by mistake, the language of the street, of the Czech street specifically, explodes into the text. Not the actual words, since Kundera opts not to transcribe them, but what he refers to as “the language of Ithaca,” “coarse, dirty obscene.” It led Marcel into yet more tortuous excesses of moral introspection. For the Returning Couple, it offers something pre-rational, a final sense of having reached home base, the dirt, Schoenberg’s “soil,” the very land in its most absolute uniqueness. And at the end of this exploration, the lovers have exhausted the joy of the intimate and familiar that home, being at home in one’s mother tongue, afforded them. The novel ends with a bleak scene in a hotel bedroom, with the hero gazing at his sleeping lover’s crotch, a “sad place with its spell broken.” It is the scene in Courbet’s painting L’Origine du Monde: a naked woman with her legs open in our direction, revealing the “place” that is the source of all possible places. But unlike the painter, Kundera has outlived any nostalgia for it.
Soren A. Gauger
“Yield Not To …”
How I Got Rid of It
Charles Marowitz’s production of Havel’s “little Czech Faust” (premiere 13.5.2004 Estates Theatre Prague) performs the exceptional feat of avoiding the pink elephant in the room. The play is set in the late seventies in an overtly communist context. The dialogue traces all the painstaking (and painful) hedging and feinting of sycophantic compromise required to preserve the smallest of individual interests. Faustka (David Matásek), hungry for illicit knowledge—at first inept and then hubristic— predictably falls foul of a system devoted to empirical science and the purging of superstition and indeterminacy. Marowitz’s staging deliberately avoids the obvious context to which Havel’s work seems bound. It’s a context that could do well with some scrutiny, but is now subject to an amnesia that ironically renders Havel’s dramatic works increasingly less translatable or meaningful on the contemporary stage. So what to do? How to reinstate or celebrate Havel’s theatre and leave the skeletons safely in the closet? Famous for his innovative adaptations of classics, Marowitz has given Temptation a makeover in an effort to circumnavigate precisely this issue. He plays a universalising card from the pack and divests the play of its specificity. In the background to the scenes set in the scientific institute—rather than an office crowded with arbitrarily assembled objects from embryos to “cult objects from primitive nations” specified by Havel— Marowitz places four tall Perspex boxes as one would find in a museum. These were filled with objects on display—various dummies, a large photo of Dubček and an assemblage of objects of ‘communist’ vintage. Those objects not immediately recognisable as communist memorabilia are, one supposes, apparently symbolic in intent. But the signs are clear enough and quite distinct from Havel’s stage description. History is meticulously boxed in and preserved safely and ironically in a stage museum. Perhaps to reflect this sense of frozen time the set is dominated by an enormous and stopped clock which inexplicably bursts apart at the conclusion of the scene before the interval. This seems symptomatic of Marowitz’s treatment of the play as a whole—a broken set of images—from the science fiction seventies style desks of the institute, to the 1930s jazz music accompanying the opening scene, to the 1980s erotic costume of Vilma (Martina Válková), to the grating techno-strobe effects at the play’s dissonant conclusion. This bizarre and jarring set of impressions is further cranked up by vaudeville comic touches. On the whole the acting is fairly convincing, if occasionally suffering from an excess of camp—an occupational hazard of farce unfortunately. But the absurdity of the costumes in the final scene is leaden. Why František Němec, as the institute’s director, is dressed like something out of a Rocky Horror show is hard to reconcile with the tone of the rest of the play, however farcical. In fairness the play is a difficult piece to stage in any case. Dominated by endless discussion, arbitrary misogyny and a dubious finale, it seems at a loss on the spacious stage of the Estates Theatre. It certainly isn’t aided by what passes for an avant-garde approach and, ultimately, rather than attempting to address the most powerful, if dated, aspect of Temptation, Marowitz’s version disowns precisely what gives the play any coherence or raison d’etre.
(from Hymns to Millionaires, Twisted Spoon Press, 2004) “This is my dog,” said these poor children. “That is my place in the sun.” There is the origin and image of universal usurpation. —Pascal, “Wretchedness”
It would not be untoward of me to describe the little scene taking place around me at this very moment. I am riding my usual tram to the small office where I daily confront the patients who gather every morning and seep from one room to the next like a suppurating sore … I am midway between home and office, a point where the tram encounters a bridge of considerable length and crosses it. A brick has been thrown through a window of the car I am riding in, causing the other passengers to erupt into a state of pandemonium. Taking advantage of this fortuitous disorder, I heave up the large and cumbersome box that has been resting at my feet and push it out of the window above my head. I then hurriedly reseat myself and adopt a calm expression, all the while listening intently for the kerplop that will signify the sinking of the box in the river flowing be-
neath the bridge. I do not hear the sound, yet dare not swivel my head. A pear-shaped gentleman delivers me a glancing blow to the occiput with his elbow. He is so devoured by the pedestrian conundrum of the brick that he has begun bellowing about the safety-risk facing his two toad-like infants and, clearly suffering from some form of psycho-histrionic disorder, frequently observed in overweight men of his age group, is flapping his arms about in a visual demonstration of his anxiety syndrome. A gentleman with pattern hair loss struggles to pacify him. A woman says something about the rising price of bread. I return to my thoughts. There has been no kerplop. A large puddle awaits my foot as I step off the tram, but with a deft manoeuvre I manage to evade it. This evasion brings me into headlong collision with Ms. Colleen Moore. I feel the stiffened muscles in my face involuntarily soften. Our gazes connect for a fleeting moment, and she purses her lips ever so slightly before boarding the tram, leaving me in her vast wake. I collect myself and head for the office, my very first step lunging me into the waiting humiliation of that self-same puddle. The staircase to my office is irregularly steep and narrow. The architect was a clear-cut case of Childhood Deprivation Disorder; if only I had been given six weeks with him I’m sure I wouldn’t have patients snapping their frail joints on those treacherous stairs. By the time I wheeze up to my front door Mr. DeMire is already waiting for me, unconsciously tap-taptapping away with his right foot, the poor devil. Fumbling for the keys, I recall to mind—my memory no doubt aided by the invincible metronome of DeMire’s leather sole—how that very same sound drove his wife to suicide, the sheer melodrama of a fifth-story window, no less, and how his tapping now had a double-
entendre effect that might move the stoniest of hearts to sorrow. With a decisive and swift movement I bring my foot heavily down upon his, and the sound abruptly quits. We shuffle together through the waiting room and into my office, the two being divided by a glass door that slides rather than swings. This brings us to a further architectural eccentricity: my perfectly circular office. At precisely the centre point stands my great oak desk and double-padded chair where I place myself each day. Somewhere in front of that one finds the client’s chair. A cursory inspection would lead one to conclude that it is not a seat of privilege. The seat is worn, its sober shade of maroon faded, the legs scratched up from decades of anxious picking and fiddling. If I were to superimpose, one on top of another, all of my clients from the past twentyfour years, all sitting at once on that unmoored satellite just slightly outside of arm’s reach (I command a rather considerable arm-span), would it be any surprise to find them all blur into their one harmonious chord, an all-consuming wretched grimace, a disfigured Cheshire Cat? Onto this seething morass hops Mr. DeMire, or rather the thirty-ninth instalment of more or less the same DeMire. He blushes, stammers, scrapes at his teeth with a fingernail, overwinds his watch. I know his every gesture down to the smallest revolting peculiarity. When he visits my closet-sized washroom, he leaves spots of blood in the sink. Go on, I say, from where you left off on Tuesday. Despite my most earnest efforts my voice sounds flat and defeated. There had been no kerplop. After the fire I guess I felt strangely calm. That came after my wife’s suicide of course and my son’s, erm, ardent, erm, dismissal of my role if I can put it in terms such as … well then my coworkers had already signed the petition to have me … what is the term … dismissed, well and what is a man after all, Doctor, if not his family and his profession and his home? What could I even start talking about that wouldn’t make … well, I still met Claude for lunch and we could speak in French which might not seem to you like something, Doctor, but after all. It has not always been like this. Before I opened a practice I had various consultations with my conscience, more than the occasional misgiving. Did I really want to hold myself accountable for the most miserable refuse of the social system? Naturally, no. Yet here I was, milling about in the meantime between idle jobs, complaining to anyone who would listen that I was a trained and qualified psychoanalyst. A mender of strayed and punctured souls, I would wax lyrical. And above all, I had to do something. But I was terrified I would lose something of myself amongst the assembly of madmen that would become my daily company, to say nothing of my bread and butter, and even more of the transformation of my own psyche that becoming a psychoanalyst would entail. I dreaded the moment when the placid and velvety texture of the analyst’s voice would defrost and slowly seep into my own, until requesting a bus ticket and urging Mr. DeMire to tell me about his son (once again) would be one and the same smooth modulation. My son … my son never wonders about me, I guess he doesn’t wonder about things generally, oh, I’m well past the point where I can be counted upon to tread lightly about the topic of my son one can’t go on being charitable for all one’s life after all … He called me last week to tell me about his new job as a photographer’s assistant and I said that’s perfect for someone so duplicitous and then there was a long pause such as I’m accustomed to having when on the phone with my son and we, erm, mutually agreed to end the conversation. I have (continued on page 20)
“How I got rid of it” (from page 1)
had nightmares since about the whole thing … Do you like hearing people’s dreams, Doctor? I nod my head and remember, as I always do when I nod my head, the first scrap of paper I wrote on and filed away, simply: “A nod of the head is either a gesture of agreement or an admission of guilt, or the last, helpless movement before the blackness of sleep.” Why do I mention this … Ah, yes, because it marked the debut of what was to become a twentythree-and-a-half year succession of little notes farmed from the steadily eroding treasuries of my innermost psyche as it once was and yet may be again. My theory ran like this: a personality can only be said to exist insofar as it has an outlet, much like a kind and virtuous God can only be said to exist if, amongst the petty tyrants and mercenaries praying to their gods of punishment and retribution there exists a solitary prayer (even one will do) to sweet Mercy. My notes were emphatically not, therefore, symbolic gestures, but rather fragments of a meek and huddled reality, shivering in the chill draft of the analyst’s comforting smile. A little bell clangs in the back of my mind. How does it feel. Well, I’m less, erm, vulnerable, if I have the right expression, to the nocturnal attacks of anxiety that simply … seep through the body, as well as what I call the falling sickness and a general brittleness in the fingers and teeth. But then something will confront me suddenly and without warning, the hernia and flash of a light bulb when I haven’t any spares in the cupboard or the insufferable drip of a faucet, even when plugged up tight with toilet paper, the resolute tap-tap-tap, he mimicked, providing unconscious syncopation to the rhythm of his eternally restless foot. I vow to myself to carpet the spot of floor under the patient’s chair prior to DeMire’s next visit. Meanwhile, the off-kilter rhythm has reminded me of a jazz melody popular some ten years ago, and I am helplessly thrust back to the Indian-red interior of an acquaintance’s apartment, where the song in question is playing in the background and skipping strategically in order to delete the verses I have forgotten. The women’s skirts ride just above the knee, in accordance with the fashion then, and their hair-configurations tower and spiral madly up from their foreheads, as though to foreshadow the Babel-like confusion that would descend upon me when I approached one of them sweatily clutching some elaborate cocktail. I was on my own and therefore I thought it prudent to strike up some of the old conversation. After a survey of the premises had occupied me for an hour or so, my gaze alighted upon a svelte woman in an evening dress, also on her own. Her slender, bare arms were propped up nonchalantly on a ledge behind her, and I don’t think I will ever see anything more lovely than those arms, like swan necks reeling back in the mythic, righteous act of taking. My knees, suddenly the arbitrarily-chosen centre of gravity, launched
me forward, and from halfway across the room she happened to catch my eye. I noticed her full lips pucker ever so slightly. I hesitated, swooning, as if struck by a trance, which provided just enough time for a swarthy Mediterranean-type in a tan suit and shiny shoes to writhe in-between us, thrusting forward a hairy palm to shake and offering ejaculations of greeting to the disarmed target. Thus it was from afar that I first heard her sigh out her name: Colleen Moore. … interesting than staying at the shelter for arson victims or listening to Claude complain about the stiffness in his legs, which … erm … he presumes to be, well, a signal or more of an omen, really, of a general stiffening of the joints and … well, a general paralysis, which is just another way of saying death, isn’t it. So Claude’s been in bad spirits and there can be nothing more depressing than a gloomy Frenchman do you know what I’m saying. From that time forward my notes became more and more preoccupied with that phantom woman, who I am calling Ms. Colleen Moore. At least everything started with Ms. Moore, as if she were a centre point from which my otherwise barren thoughts would drift in steady elliptical orbits, always to swing back to the same invariable with a magnetic irresistibility, a seemingly counter-geometrical veer towards the heart of the matter, that is to say … it should be abundantly clear at this juncture that I was losing control of the central control mechanism … that is, I now had three competing parties inside myself: the psychoanalyst, the self that kept seeing a certain woman’s face in his periphery and writing absurd drivel that she would never lay her eyes upon, and the final self that could only stare at the whole grotesque bagatelle in abject horror. For years I juggled this trinity! It may be true that a man can persuade himself to endure any atrocity, no matter how appalling, if he finds a germ of necessity in it. I suppose this is where my dog starts to come in. Come in, she cried, and so when I opened that doom-laden door which I firmly believe I was bound to open and which in a certain sense I have been perpetually reopening like some kind of brain-damaged Sisyphus every day for the past five years, when I opened that door there was my wife naked and clutching her belly in laughter and what’s more the spotty backside of some flabby Casanova in an act of prostration to some god that was surely covering his eyes to avoid seeing our mutual triptych of humiliation: the physical, the circumstantial, and mine, the cumulative. And then what was there to do but to close the door and walk off. My dog was born in the wrong skin. A monstrous semblance of a creature that whelped at the slightest injury to a paw. I have wondered if perhaps my apartment had had a floor-length mirror, if the beast would have seen its own terror-inspiring form and made the abstract leap of faith that it was one and the same as the reflection … but these are mad hypotheses. I bring up my dog because one fine day, having been pushed to the very limits of re-
vulsion with myself … or, if I may clarify, with the periodic notes I had been writing and storing in the desk drawer … I solemnly resolved to be finished with the entire business once and for all. This was how I began … erm, well … —I suppose I began to snip up the notes into pieces, mixing the bits with the dog’s dinner, and then feeding it all to him. The process was a slow one, because the dog would refuse to eat more than a certain percentage of paper as compared to meat, but then I thought a slowness to be appropriate … even necessary … to the act I was performing. Why, to throw it all in a hastily prepared fireplace would have been … … an attic, filled with deflated balloons and vague whispers and indistinct outlines of furniture the floorboards creaking and tilting from side to side like the deck of a ship aware of a terrible parchedness in my throat and the knowledge that any attempt to speak would emerge as a dry croak towering piles of grey rubble imminent blindness a foregone conclusion rain incessantly tapping on the roof with impossible rhythm and is it any better to wake up When the dog had devoured it all, our relationship began to change. He began looking at me with a smile that betrayed a strange wisdom, that spoke of a figurative digestion of the materials he had swallowed. Those eyes seemed to follow me wherever I was in the room, profoundly sad eyes, eyes that reached inside the marshy, malleable muck of my soul and pulled out the seeds, which I, imagine, I, was therefore confronted with in all their shrivelled indignity. A dog! I began the practice of locking him in the kitchen, until his snivelling howling got to be too much to bear. I stopped taking him out for walks during the day, out of fear that the passers-by would have even a tiny glimpse of what I saw in his condemning eyes. In short, I had not destroyed the papers at all, I had merely given them a new form, granted them an unspeakable autonomy, a new life, which was after all my life, and the dog’s life, none of which I could control. Above all, I vowed not to do anything rash. … spreading all over the shoulders and upper arms like a fire blazing out of control or an endless network of puddles of blood when I’m wide awake or dreaming or dreaming that I’m wide awake which all amounts to the same thing come to think of it … And so there I was, shirt-sleeves rolled up and up to my elbows in blood, which I had painstakingly drained from the dog into an orange plastic bucket that I normally keep under the sink to catch the water that has leaked from a pipe since the very first day I moved into my apartment, a leak I have come to see as a necessary condition of life. The disposal of the blood was a simple enough matter, it just went down the bathtub drain. But the body of the dog was to prove more complex. I first cut it into pieces with a serrated blade, and wrapped each of the bits in plastic, twice over, so as to be sure, and then placed it all in a brown cardboard box.
But then how to get rid of the box. Gradually, the transparent and flaky shards of a plan assembled themselves on the drafting table of my mind. I would take the box aboard the 8:10 tram, the one I normally take to work (nothing suspicious in that … all kinds of people take boxes onto trams for a multitude of reasons), and hire a man to cast a brick through the window as it was precisely reaching the midpoint of the bridge. I would take advantage of the ensuing mayhem, and unnoticed, heave the box out the window. Which leaves us only the affair of the kerplop, or rather the uncanny silence substituting for the anticipated kerplop. A silence that the wretched DeMire, my blood-sucking client, was parroting as he cradled his head in his big hands. With an impatient wave of the hand I sent him out of the room. I remained in my office until nightfall, shifting papers from this pile to that, trying to calm the twitching of my hands. Then I made my way out to the street with a perfect air of tranquillity. I mimed considering taking the tram home but then, with a shrug of the shoulders that would have been sure to convince any chance observers of my carefree motives, elected to walk home instead. At the centre of the bridge I stopped, as though struck by noticing the moon for the first time. Indeed, the shimmering lunar reflection on the surface of the water was not without its peculiar beauty. And as my gaze fell towards the river, I saw the box. It had fallen onto a ledge and was balanced precariously over the river’s swiftly-running waters. All I would need to do was to swing a leg over the guardrail, give the thing a sure kick, and I would have no more of its torments. I glanced over my shoulder to be sure that the bridge was free of pedestrians. I have often asked myself since, what if Ms. Colleen Moore hadn’t stepped out of the mist at that moment. This belongs to the species of question that one asks oneself in the dead of night merely to feel the strange ecstasy of a chill run down one’s spine. But the fact is that it was Ms. Colleen Moore, who had also chosen to walk home over the bridge on that enchanted evening. I lifted my gaze from the box and returned to my contemplation of the moon and its reflection. I heard her footsteps slow down as they approached, then falter and altogether stop. I swivelled to find her less than a few feet away, and smiling reassuringly at me. For an instant my instinct was to ignore her, I had the urgent matter of the box to be thinking about, not a second to waste, but then it hit me: wasn’t it her in the box? And the dog? And I? And after all, weren’t she and I in fact standing there on the pavement, intact? We exchanged a few words, our breaths visible in the crisp night air, and then I found myself suggesting that we go for a stroll, which took us off the bridge, down the street, and in the direction of the moon.
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Published on Jan 9, 2010
Prague Literary Review was a monthly cultural review printed in tabloid format between 2003 and 2005. Editor: Louis Armand. Publisher: Roman...