My older brother recently acquired his friend’s PlayStation 2; perfectly fine. However, I’ve been sucked back into gaming habits I thought I’d buried safely below seven years back. In playing Shadow of the Colossus, Final Fantasy XII, and merely remembering Soul Reaper (for PSX), I wrote a small story in my head that sums up the vertigo of the ambitions of role-playing game stories when played side by side by side:
Ages ago his friend Bleaker stopped by, delivering fruit. The fruit trees waved in the breezes near the beach; their roots glowed above the sandy soil, and Bleaker picked the fruit by the light of their roots. He delivered the ripe fruit to Rex and for this they were friends. When Bleaker became a chemist, much later, far away from his grandparents’ beach-side orchard, Rex arrived in the city and murdered him. He needed Bleaker’s soul. He needed a chemist’s soul, he needed a butcher’s soul, he needed a farmer’s soul and a veterinarian’s soul—Rex needed so many souls, and more souls besides, in his envoy, if he hoped to defeat the dark sorceress Alice. Alice had invaded the republic of heaven and was eating those souls there to break through the spiritual realm and eventually conquer all the universes. She was wearisomely bored, unprepared to face the frivolities of immortal existence. Living forever made her crazy. Rex was a bit mad, too; nobody believed this wild justification for his mass-murders. Bleaker, the chemist-soul, continued his experiments on the “other side,” aiding his friend half-hearted in the heat of battles, “battles,” that is, to collect more souls.
My grandparents were missionaries in Guyana, and my mother spent a portion of her childhood living in Central America. So, although I grew up in Nebraska, my worldview was shaped by stories of service, sacrifice and rewards that enabled me to see beyond the Plains States, and to understand the impact an individual could have on a national and international level. Obviously, that sounds like over-ripe idealism, and certainly my studies in college only enriched this vision. By studying political science I exposed myself to the fundamental, defining characteristics of contemporary policy, and I came to believe that by involving myself in the political machine, I would shape the practices of our society, for the better. A young man in my situation goes to Washington, D.C. to change the world. But I did not go.
Actually, Simon Critchley’s Ethics—Politics—Subjectivity makes for fairly engaging reading whilst sitting passenger on the trek to pick up your beloved twin brother.
I don’t understand much about Hegelian ethical systems, or Derrida’s gloss on them through his Glas, but reading a third-removed argument examining both was like a hot breeze blowing into my Camry’s sails. Of course Jeremy drove. On the way he sometimes said, “Turkeys!” to make me look for turkeys on the roadside, but there were never any. Sometimes there were horses!
Later we picked up last month’s New Left Review at the bookstore in Valparaiso, and then instead of saying “Turkeys!” incrementally, Jeremy would say, “Don’t touch my New Left Review.”
Cody comes up tomorrow. And despite the fact that I was angry with him this evening, waiting outside Cracker Barrel with the family (for 45 minutes!), reading Critchley has put me back in a zone of confidence, or as Hegel would say via Derrida, something something something
There is surely no doubt that Fredric Jameson is not only an eminent critic but a great one, fit to assume his place in a roll-call of illustrious names stretching from Edmund Wilson, Kenneth Burke, F. R. Leavis and Northrop Frye to I. A. Richards, William Empson and Paul de Man. Even this is to limit the judgement to Anglophone colleagues only, whereas the true field of comparison ranges much more widely. No literary scholar today can match Jameson’s versatility, encyclopaedic erudition, imaginative brio or prodigious intellectual energy. In an age when literary criticism, like so much else, has suffered something of a downturn, with forlornly few outstanding figures in the field, Jameson looms like a holdover from a grander cultural epoch altogether, a refugee from the era of Shklovsky and Auerbach, Jakobson and Barthes, who is nonetheless absolutely contemporary.
I have nearly 20 pages to write by Friday on nurseries.
But..I did write this on my break from those papers. I really just wanted to see how many times I could say shit.
The psychiatric patients from across the street at Kilne Towers, all in wheelchairs, used to roll by my apartment window in the alley screaming at the pigeons — the same pigeons that shit on my Black Accord and nested above the stairs down to my apartment in the basement of The Pink House. It was Sophomore year, the year of experimentation, the year of MySpace Liz. I lived alone that year. I was alone.
Classes began to make sense that year. My architecture professor talked about pathways, thresholds, and spatial metaphors. The stairs, the door into my apartment was an unclean pathway to darkness and disease. It became a space of fear, absent up until The 2005 Breakdown. I feared entertaining, developed illnesses and throat abscesses from what I still believe to be the horrid living conditions. I complained to the landlord, Esperanza, who lived upstairs. She was so kind as to help and began hosing down the stairs with soapy water every Saturday morning, as the patients in wheelchairs would ride up and down the alley mumbling or screaming. I’d wake, not to the screaming, but to the squeak of the hose faucet turning, then the hard stream of water blasting out of the nozzle onto the layers of cement and pigeon shit. Esperanza’s soapy water solution, her pigeon shit cleaner, would leak through the cracks in the door onto the tile in my apartment. Specks of white shit in the soapy water floated down the steps through the door and became encrusted on the floor. When I awoke Saturday mornings, I learned to avoid the doorway, squinting and tip toeing my way to the bathroom without my glasses, my bare feet sticking and unsticking to the cold tile with each step. Got to avoid the shit, got to avoid the shit — became the Saturday morning ritual. Slowly I became immune to the pigeons and all the patients’ screaming and mumbling. I identified with the patients’ misery; I hated those pigeons. I hated that apartment.
Grady lived in Liverpool and Ernst lived in Prague. Grady had no money, not that creditors believed this, or cared. They called him five times one Saturday morning. He was in Liverpool, not America! Ernst had some money in Prague, and he had some time before creditors cared about that. Grady and Ernst were lovers. They met on a boat crossing the Baltic Sea—it was exactly as romantic and aromatic as the dark mists and darting fish of the journey, but now nothing was adventurous or useful about the relationship, and mostly only the memory of the voyage that began the torrid affair kept their love afloat. If only they could be on a ship again! Adrift under a bald winter sky, clouds lumpy like fat flesh, the color of a malnourished Latvian’s skin; despite the scenery, the room service was beyond adequate and in a portside cabin (with the little portholes and the glowing winking sparkling bubbles of evening seawater lapping) they drizzled a variety of comestibles across one another’s backsides. They could afford to be filthy! Well, they could afford to pretend they could afford—a fine distinction. A perverse thought occupied Grady as he sat listless in his tower room: how many dead men were there buried in mass graves between himself and Ernst, killed in the general rounding-up of queers, dissidents, intellectuals and Jews. Would these massacred queer souls care that his heart hurt? Would they care that in this civil, modern age of social mediation and jet planes, he sat in his cheap, leaky, smelly tower room, his wrists crossed over a fussy graduate proposal, his eyes searching across the Channel, the continent, from the West into the East, where his lover sat, busy and quite sane over a stack of consulate notices in bridge-and-spire Prague? In fact his pining was of so infinitesimal meaning to history that it only radiated inwards, too weightless to gather affect into an insignificant black hole; a question, however, could and did form: What am I doing in Liverpool? Among other questions beget from selfish, cheap, sentimental and perverse thoughts.
Masturbation? He couldn’t get his thumb to work, he gave up after moments, really after unzipping his fly, realizing how fruitless and shaming his efforts might become. Snorting over his trunk leering at a magazine! He had to spend his dignity with greater economy than that. He snorted deeper. The air in the tower was leaden with the smell of his sheets, of brine and olives—he was pickling himself every night in his sheets, over-estimating the chill of the air and the necessary amount of blankets to keep the chill away. He woke two nights ago drenched in sweat. He entered his bathroom wicking water from his shoulders and elbows, from his thinning hair, onto the floor. Trickles of sweat! A real rivulet coursing between his groin, snaking behind his knees. The tiles in the tiny bathroom were slick and sulking he grabbed a fresh towel (a rarity, a sign of some sense in the mad dark world), and he remade a corner of his bed with the fresh towel and dreamed about tunneling with a former art history professor. She extended her hand to the depths below, saying, “The treasure is down here—only a bit further.” He held a shovel and in the dream had said aloud, “Ernst will be so glad that I am unearthing precious antiquities, I am making a fortune!” He tunneled with the crazy lady, he swung a pick-ax into clay walls, he pulled it out to reveal rooms spilling over with gild-framed canvases and marble busts, and his professor studied the bounty then dismissed it, saying, “Further on, further on!” She was, in the dream-logic, digging toward Utopia. Beyond the golden art treasures she was assessing the survival of culture entire, she was digging towards illumination! Grady dug on, thinking, “Ernst can live in Utopia with me; we’ll share a tree house, he’ll bring his Labrador-retriever, we’ll sip espresso in the waxy leaves.”
He began to study his phone habits. When he expected a call—when he spent all day expecting the phone call which would occur shortly after 6:30, as was mentioned but certainly not promised; as in, “I’ll call after I get out of my thing”—he spent the car ride home with his thumb pressed against the screen. Accept. He kept the radio off incase he missed the sound of the ringer. He took backroads—but choice backroads, with hills and high fields, hills that merely rose and plateaued, never plummeting into valleys or rolling into rivers. If the road crossed the river or the lake, it was on a high bridge, a concrete causeway, full of iron and receptive metals. The phone grew hot in his right hand (he steered nimbly with his left hand’s thumb). It felt like a beetle when it phantom-rang, or ghost-rumbled, or whatever the phone did when he thought maybe he’d left it on vibrate and warmly it trembled in his palm. A cockroach. An information cockroach that ate into his ear, his brain, his little mouse heart, which was cold and shivery because the heat in his truck didn’t work, and because the phone never rang when he expected it to. But it did ring! That’s the thing—it did! But the timing hurt, just the same, and he studied this hurt, too. Why does the timing hurt? Why does the connection feel stressed, severed, painful? He studied his phone. He thought about throwing it at some stranger as an act of liberation, of transference. As an act of transubstantiation! The phone became an evil thing to him, and studying it made him evil, too.
Yesterday I previewed in my third-removed narrative voice, and today I’ll continue with a veritable macramé of voices, some taken from emails, like this first bit, scavenged from an email sent two days ago:
I also thought a lot about how to resolve my painting—will I put the figure of the man standing on the cow? That seems pretty silly, but I think I can do it. Very simple shapes, perhaps powerful if executed with deliberation and poise. From there I thought about this upcoming night where another one of my paintings will be on display, at the Richmond Art Museum. I fantasize that I’ll win a prize of $75 dollars or so, to cover the cost of having submitted the work to these shows and the gas money and the stress—a stress that is somehow low-level but richly entwined with my otherwise exhausting fantasy life, which has begun to inhabit a grand social matrix that, though completely fabricated, inhabits a sadly real place in my emotional recall. I imagine taking the check and then wandering around the small rooms of the gallery space, not knowing anyone and pretending to admire/consider the work “on its own terms” and then talking to Shawn, the chief curator/director for RAM, and he eventually asks me about employment and then he offers me a part-time job.
My fantasy life is elegantly textured with bland resolutions involving finances.
"Later, after I got off the phone with my boyfriend, I was too tired to realize the potential of this thread. And so I’ll state simply: my fantasy came true, minus 25bucks and no part-time job, but a volunteer offer."
I bought a bottle of San Pellegrino and baked BBQ chips for the car ride home. My brother, on his way to Columbus, OH, to visit his girlfriend, arrived in the parking lot of Wal-Mart and we swapped vehicles; he also gave me his gloves, because the heat in his truck is out. We talked about the reception. When I arrived home I made myself a cheese quesadilla, crushed the baked BBQ chips into it, sipped the sparkling water, and talked to my boyfriend, thinking to myself, I am so far away from you, I am so far away from you, I am so far away from you, even though we were really discussing what it means to be an uncle, subversion of gender roles, Wal-Mart-ing, the art show and his day at school.
This is true—tomorrow evening at around 7 I am required to attend another art reception in rural Indiana. Art receptions around here, at least the one last week, required nothing in the way of anything. A log could have rolled through the gallery space followed by bearded men screaming, wielding hacksaws, and the grandmothers and loafers attending would have been crushed silently, with no amusement, their blood pooling everywhere, eliciting yawns or averted gazes. Their deaths doing nothing, anything. The event fed its goers iced-down Welch’s white grape juice (couldn’t even cut it with Perrier?) and October-appropriate shaped sugar cookies from Wal-Mart. The attendees milled about in blue jeans (well, so did I, but my blue Oxford button-up was tucked in; also, as an artist-in-attendance, I’m allowed to dress with a sort of studied casual urbanism) and those caught in the hallways who wanted to just cross through the building wore sweaters. Disgusting. Where was the jazz trio? Where are you, god damn it.
Lance from the Richmond Art Museum called this afternoon to explain that tomorrow is the reception and that my attendance would be conducive. “Your attendance would be conducive” is exactly how he worded this invitation, which is really only a reminder, as the entry form and website already have the date and time, though no formal cards went out, at least not to me, though maybe to donors or “Friends of the Richmond Arts.” Conducive—to what? Drearily have I wondered. I hope there is liquor. I hope there is a cheese ball.
I played around with Lance telling him to inflect his voice with a little more enthusiasm. He told me, “Well, when you’re the twentieth person on the call sheet, it’s hard to get excited.”
This is outrageous for two reasons: First, my last name begins with a B. I’d like to comprehend the greater incidence of so many B’s smarting-off on the call-sheet, or the secretary who can’t compile in alphabetical order. Second, I’d like to think even if he didn’t know he was calling me just the utterance of my name would cause no small tremble to shake through his monotone. Alas. I’ve lost my edge. Something is gone. Nothing, anything, is that all I’ve left? When we hung up I consoled myself with a brownie, dunking the black thing over and over into milk, it would absorb nothing, anything.
On the emotional agenda: In my richest fantasy life I am offered a part-time job.
Looked up Anne Frank on wikipedia this morning while I was supposedly printing off job searches. Was tremendously overcome. Listened to In the Aeroplane Over the Sea on the drive back home. Sucked it all in before the roadmen constructing a metal barrier would know me for the savage flotsam I truly am. Nearly recovered, I made a terrible pot of coffee while my father ate lunch and I played him some of the album, attempting to explain its larger thematic concerns.
"This sounds like Woody Guthrie. It doesn’t sound sad," he said.
"No, it doesn’t sound sad. But the track name is ‘Holland, 1945’ and if you follow what he’s singing about, you get a sense that at this point in the album he’s realizing he cannot hold onto her, that she somehow escapes his attempts to revive her, that music is just a distancing technique from history and from trauma."
"Is that an accordian?"
French roast coffee, at least Folger’s brand, is terrible. I added chili powder, ginger and then chocolate to take off the edge. I ate cracked pepper potato chips and American cheese.
After lunch, Dad showed me how to back the tractor out of the barn (so that I can get back to work on my painting). Now I know how to turn on a tractor and back it up, and he knows a little more about Anne Frank and her relationship to a 1990s album by Neutral Milk Hotel.