The Gospel of Anarchy

By Justin Taylor

Harper Perennial
February 2011
256 pages



A girl with a perfect, pale ass like an upside down heart is standing in the doorway of a bedroom. Her own, it seems fair to assume. Her hair is tied back, appears wet. The picture is cockeyed, suggesting that the photographer was a little off-balance, maybe snagged the shot while in motion, snuck it on the fly. We can see into the girl’s room, somewhat, around her shape and through her legs. There’s a loud pink bedspread, mussed. All kinds of stuff on the floor.

Every single one of these images was a betrayal. Privacies violated, trusts broken. That was the real frame narrative, the superstructure, and this knowledge made them so much more powerful. They stank of aura.

Except that wasn’t always the case, was it? A woman sitting in a rolling chair in a home-office, a converted den, wearing a tank top only, tipping the chair back, legs spread wide, playing with herself with one hand and holding up a sign with the other: the name of some usenet group, the date of the picture, the words #1 Fan. Swingers. Exhibitionists. Baby you know how many people are gonna see this and get themselves off to it? No baby, tell me, tell me all about it. Okay, baby. Now tell me again.

So there were two narratives, actually, of equal but inverse and irreconcilable power. It was either, She never wanted this, or else it was, She got exactly what she wanted. You had to decide for yourself. You had to make it up as you went along.

Topless girls in front of sinks, their own or that of some hotel room, blowing their hair out, brushing teeth, looking away from the camera or sidelong into it with an expression like, seriously, Anthony, would you knock it off?

In bed, full nude, reclining, dark hair in a bun and a deep natural tan, legs crossed at the ankles, blanket scrunched down by her feet, weirdly demure, a single dollop of jism near her pierced navel like a pale moon orbiting a silver-ringed planet, one hand behind her head. In the other hand, a bulky gray cellular phone indicated that the image was from probably four or five years ago, at least. And where was this girl now? Still with the guy who’d snapped the photo, or had their breakup been the trigger for his sharing?

I copied and saved my favorites so I could look at them again later. One folder, holding all I’d culled from the sites and from the lists. A window on my own desktop. No interference. No connection at all required. I could unplug the broadband, if I wanted, and just cycle through the thousand favorites I already had. But of course I didn’t do that. I minimized the whole AOL window, but inside it, tucked away, the mailbox was open and the chat was still logged on. I changed my desktop background to pure white. I hid all the other icons, and the toolbar too. I opened the image browser. I pressed the little box that maximizes.

Here they were, surrounded with plain white pixels, pure radiance, mystic roses at the center of my heaven, burning bushes (I mean no pun). I stared until I saw clear through them and into their constitutive brightness. I aimed back at my own chest, and cleaned up with tissues which saturated and wept apart. As my frequency increased, so did my stamina, and my issuance came in watery, thin ropes. There were paper fibers spun up in the hair on my stomach.

I discovered the slideshow option in a pull-down menu in the image browser. Click. It was synesthetic, full frontal sex light the color of the feeling of office air, white recirculation, bodies made of light, ever-present for endless consumption yet never themselves consumed—skin that looked sweat-slick but was in fact cool to the touch, or would have been if it had been in fact touchable, made of something other than computer glass and unconsummated light. Skin smooth as keyboard keys, dry and noiseless as the planet-like spinning of the trackball in its cradle.

 What had been born of boredom and curiosity, then mutated into enthusiasm and honest perversion, then refined itself further into a kind of connoisseurship, now seemed to have transcended all these things and become something else, which delivered neither pleasure nor its opposite. Its only truly novel aspect, at this point, was the sheer monstrosity of its breadth—the perpetual beckon of more and more. Even to call it compulsion would be to make it seem more dire, and thus significant, than it actually was. I had a habit. That was all.

Rock star headshots plucked from the pages of glossy magazines. They taped these to their walls. Or rappers. Inspirational posters in cheap frames. A lot of people don’t shut their TV off. They get caught up in the excitement and, forgotten, ignored, on it blares. Or maybe it’s muted. How could the image tell you? Or maybe they’ve got the volume turned way up so whoever is in the next room can’t hear. These are just for me, he told her, just for us. She gave him that look. He thought she wasn’t going to, but then she tugged at her blouse hem, tentative, testing, a toe dipped in water, and he knew she would. She did. Girls who squinch their eyes shut. Girls who stare back up at you, staring you down. “You.” Shaved or unshorn, or better still—shaving. Caught in the act. Process and method. So drunk she can’t stand. Here’s the two of us in Cabo. Okay, now here’s one of just her. Took this while she was sleeping. Shoulda thought twice, you cheating bitch. You slut. I love it when you call me that. Girls in showers, one arm across the breasts and the other waving away the camera, but smiling—exasperated, tolerant. Are you fucking kidding me, Anthony? Baby it’s cool, just be cool.

Stuffed animals, stray socks and shoes, and books—math textbooks, Moby-Dick, Harry Potter, Stephen King, The Complete Idiot’s Guide To fill in the blank. Bibles. Bedside clutter on low tables. Human detritus—mundane and fascinating. The way things accreted and gathered. Loose change, heaped or stacked neatly. Watches, matches, rings.

The insider knowledge, routine his and hers smells. Everything you’ve seen so many times it’s basically invisible, or else it’s the one thing that you always notice but never mention. The way he holds me. Her neck mole. The humdrum fuck. A little bored, a little mad at each other, but it’s Friday night and. The calendar with tomorrow’s date circled—your doctor’s appointment, our concert tickets. A guitar on a stand against the far wall by the window. You never play anymore. Find me the time and I’ll play. A computer monitor, ancient, size of a microwave, eating up all available space on a beat-up black Formica corner desk. Discarded clothes, torn frenzied from the body—or is that laundry left undone? A framed photograph on the nightstand: child with beagle. I’m tired. But do you still want to? I mean, you do want to, right? Because we don’t have to. I want to do what you want to do. Digital alarm clocks. Record collections. Warn me before you come.