Monday
Jun292015

When You Really Love Someone

N. Michelle AuBuchon and Charles Tunstall Peirce


 

Mother is watching NOVA and the girls are in the next room, at it again. They can hear the NOVA narrator explaining the vocal patterns of dolphins. Squeaks, whistles, clicks, squawks. She says that dolphins also communicate with non-verbal language: a caress of the fins, a blown bubble, a clap of the jaw.1

What the narrator is not saying is that sisters share a secret language. And if sisters share a secret language then Lakshmi and Dahlia are not unlike dolphins, except, instead of blowing bubbles, they are telling stories. And if NOVA produced an episode about sisters then the narrator would call these creatures deluded. But it doesn't matter what the NOVA narrator thinks, because in their sister language, Lakshmi dies every night: at the mouths of wild beasts, underneath tsunamis, amputates her body parts one by one, blows up to the size of a house.

Dahlia wouldn't mind writing a book, but she would never want to host NOVA. Her favorite hobby is closing her eyes and listening to her sister's stories. She tries to remember each scenario, each drop of blood. Sometimes she changes them a little when she writes the stories down. She brings them to school to show her teacher, Ms. Davis.

This time, Lakshmi gets eaten by a shark, and then she becomes the shark, and then a killer whale eats her as the shark, and she becomes a killer whale.2

On Saturdays, Ms. Davis goes to visit Aunt Dot in the nursing home. Ms. Davis calls the nursing home on Sunday nights to put in Aunt Dot's food order. Aunt Dot only eats lox and if you don't call her order in on Sunday, she'll get chicken and then she won't eat for a week straight. Ms. Davis gives Aunt Dot a manicure every Saturday. She pulls oily salmon out from underneath her fingernails.

 Aunt Dot likes salmon, manicures, black and white movies, and stories. It doesn't matter what they're about, but the stranger the better. Aunt Dot likes to close her eyes and listen. She tries to forget her body exists. Sometimes she takes on other identities. Today she is Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard. She has a scratchy white blanket wrapped around her shoulders like a stole. She is holding a pen like a cigarette and a bedpan for the ashes.

Ms. Davis says, "Morning, Aunt Dot. How was your week?"

Aunt Dot says, "I am big. It's the pictures that got small."

Ms. Davis teaches creative writing in the public school. She brings a stack of stories into the nursing home to grade while Aunt Dot watches Casablanca as Norma Desmond with her eyes closed.

When it's over, Aunt Dot says, "Tell me how I'm going to die." And Ms. Davis pulls out Dahlia's latest story about a shark who eats the narrator, then the narrator becomes the shark, then a killer whale eats the shark and the narrator becomes the killer whale. Ms. Davis decides to change it a little, so that it lasts longer.3 The narrator starts out as plankton, and then the whole bit continues: plankton eaten by a starfish becomes a starfish, starfish to a squid, squid to a penguin, penguin to a seal, seal to shark, shark to killer whale.

Visiting hours end at five, and after Ms. Davis leaves, Aunt Dot tells her psychiatrist that she's a killer whale. She goes through the whole thing. Aunt Dot has a hard time understanding what is real.

Aunt Dot's psychiatrist is just trying to finish his rounds and get home for his wife's birthday, but he gets held up listening to Aunt Dot. He is annoyed that she has the entire food chain wrong. He thinks about correcting her, but remembers he's already twenty minutes late to pick up the birthday cake for his wife.

At the store, the baker presents a sheet cake covered in impressionistic swirls of blue and white. There is one shark fin, barely visible.

The psychiatrist says, "I don't get it."

The baker says, "I know. Isn't it great? You just get the feeling that the shark is underfoot, but it's not overstated like some of those other cakes."

"No. I mean, that's not what I ordered. I ordered a cheesecake with 'Happy Birthday Joanna' written in pink and gold glitter. My wife specifically asked for gold glitter."4

The baker is smiling in a way that can only be described as creepy. He says, "Sir, this is exactly what you ordered. You are very lucky. This is the first of its kind. I hope you get to show it off before you eat it."

The psychiatrist has worked with a lot of deluded individuals, and from his professional experience, he understands he isn't leaving the supermarket with any other cake but this one.

In the parking lot, he rushes past a crowd of people. When he gets home, his wife says, "Don't get too comfortable. One of your patients is on top of the supermarket and threatening to jump."5 The psychiatrist doesn't ask which patient, hands his wife the shark cake, gets in the car, and drives back to the store. The police let him up on the roof where he finds John.

The psychiatrist is getting tired of this kind of thing. He is getting bored. He decides to try a new tactic.

"This is the best you got, huh? You know, one of my other patients is 92 and senile, and she could think of better ways to die with her eyes closed. It's not even that far down there. You'd probably just break a leg. And have you ever thought about killer whales anyway?"

The psychiatrist tells John about killer whales and several more interesting ways to die. In the end, John is embarrassed by the mediocre method with which he's chosen to kill himself.

John invents a new kind of suicide kit.6 The basic elements are all there: a plastic bag that fits around the neck and a tube that leads to a helium tank. But the twist? Virtual reality goggles that allow you to experience any fantastic death of your choice before the helium kicks in.

John finds satisfaction for the first time in his life. He feels he is delivering people from their pain. He moves to Portland, Oregon where the Death with Dignity Law has just been passed, which allows terminally ill Oregonians to end their lives through voluntary self-administration of lethal medications.

His favorite part about running his company is speaking to potential customers on the phone when they place their orders. He doesn't always make a sale. He is supposed to work through the doctors, but it is more interesting to talk to the clients directly. He gets all the info first—finds out if they're really suffering, if there's anything else that can be done. Once, he thinks he made a mistake. A kid called, said he had cancer, said it was a matter of months. John sold him the kit. Later that week on the news, the kid's picture shows up on the TV with a picture of John's suicide kit next to him. Physically healthy. Manic depressive.7 Sixteen. The autopsy revealed a strange ubiquity of plankton in his blood.

John goes back and forth in his head. If the kid was suffering that badly to want to die, it wasn't a mistake, but maybe he could have gotten better, maybe there was another way. For the first time in years, John craves confession. 

John goes to confession and tells the story to the priest. He describes the virtual reality goggles, the hypothetical deaths. He gives an example: You are plankton eaten by a starfish who becomes a starfish, starfish to a squid, squid to a penguin, penguin to a seal, seal to shark, shark to killer whale. The priest assigns ten Hail Marys and one Our Father, but sea animals always make the priest think of Lulu, his childhood crush. He remembers her silhouette in front of the biology projector, fish gills framing her face.

That night he has an erotic fantasy about Lulu as the killer whale and him as the shark and as she eats him, they orgasm and become one.

"To be celibate is to be potentially available to all. To be celibate is to be potentially available to all," he repeats to himself when he wakes up from his wet dream.8 He tries to distract himself all day, but everything reminds him of Lulu. He decides to write her a letter. He says he feels her in everything he touches. He asks her if she believes in the transference of energy. He knows this is not very Catholic, but that Lulu will understand. He tells her the story of the killer whale and the shark. He changes it a little. This time the creatures are in love and the only way to be together is for one to eat the other. There are no other options. He asks her to write back.9

The letter arrives at Lulu's childhood home. Her father is still alive and sends it to her apartment in New York City. Lulu is a playwright. She is working on variations of Macbeth. She can't help herself. Now there will be a shark/killer whale sex/eating scene.

A criminal goes to see a play. He is trying to get lucky and the girl he is dating likes plays. He thinks the play is terrible, but he doesn't know much about plays anyway. He stays long enough to see a killer whale fall in love with a shark. He tells his date he's not feeling well and goes to have a drink at the Irish bar down the street. He tells himself, just two, no more.10 He has to get up early for a gig the next day. It's a kidnapping, so nothing too complicated. They're usually pretty easy. There's not much to mess up. Grab the kid, put him in a bathtub at some cheap hotel, tie him up with enough slack to use the toilet, sit in the next room watching TV, give him a sandwich now and then.

The next day, he grabs the kid and gets him tied up at Motel 6. The kid is a total sweetheart and this kills him. When the criminal ties the knots around the kid's wrists, he asks if the rope is too tight and the kid says, "No, I'm fine, thank you."

The Motel 6 TV only has one channel and the movie is Jaws.11 The town is standing on the beach debating if the shark is a rumor and the kid is in the next room crying. The criminal tries to focus on the beach bodies. He thinks about what he'll do with his cut of the money. A new bike? Take the new girl on a nice little vacation? Costa Rica? Fuck it, she was boring and bikes require upkeep. He realizes he doesn't even care about the money. He realizes he doesn't care about much of anything. He has to get out of this room. He wanders through the motel corridors until he finds a snack machine. A little boy, maybe six, wearing floaties with shark fins, eyes the snacks while his parents argue in front of the ice machine. The criminal buys a pack of Hostess chocolate donuts and sneaks one to the boy while the parents aren't looking.  

When he gets back to the room, the beach bods are screaming and the boy is all-out bawling. Shit, he thinks. He switches off the TV and goes into the bathroom. The criminal sits on the toilet with the seat down and offers the kid the rest of the donuts. The kid takes the waxy rings, but the way he's eating, he's making this smacking sound every time he opens his jaw.

"No one ever taught you how to close your mouth when you chew?" he says to the kid. The kid stops eating and doesn't say a word.

"It's OK," the criminal says, "you can keep eating. Just close your fucking mouth is all I'm saying." The kid has chocolate all over his face, so the criminal takes a washcloth and holds it under some warm water and hands it to the kid who is sitting in the bathtub. The kid wipes his mouth then looks back at the criminal, like he's expecting something. So the criminal tells the kid the story about the killer whale and the shark, or he starts to, but then he changes it a little. He adds a little boy in the middle of the ocean. He changes it a lot actually—he lets the boy live, so it's less of a fantastic death and more of a survival story.12

Just then, the telephone starts ringing. It's the criminal's partner. He says the kid's dad is not paying and that they need to get serious.

The criminal hangs up the phone, unpacks the video camera, and goes back to the bathroom. "Want to play a game?" he asks the kid.13 The kid says OK.

"How long can you hold your breath?"

"I don't know. Thirty seconds?"

"Have you ever been in a play?"

"I was in Noah's Ark at church, once."

"Alright. So this is gonna be like that, except this time, you're one of the animals and you're fighting to stay alive, because you're the only one of your kind and the flood is coming. OK?" The kid says OK.

The criminal sets up the video camera on top of the toilet and starts running a bath. He asks if the temperature is OK. The kid says yes.

"Now remember," the criminal says, "It's just a game and in the end the little boy escapes the shark and the whale."

"I think you're mixing up the stories," the kid says. "Noah's Ark, remember?"

"Right," the criminal says. He goes into the other room and slugs whiskey while the bath fills. When he comes back to the bathroom, he turns off the water and hits record. The kid doesn't remember anyone getting grabbed by the hair in either the killer whale story or Noah's Ark, but he tries to remember that both stories have a happy ending. It is difficult though, because the criminal is holding his head under the bath water.

The criminal counts in his head, "One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi." He is very careful not to go past thirty Mississippis. Outside of his head, he is saying things like, "I will fucking kill you if I have to you piece of shit." After it's over, he turns the camera off. The kid is gasping for breath and the criminal says, "Sorry little man. That's the last of it."

"I don't like that game" the kid says.

"Yeah, me neither," the criminal says. "Wanna get some food?"

The kid says, "Yeah, I guess." The criminal gives the kid some dry clothes: a pair of navy sweat pants and a worn t-shirt that says "Go Sharks." The oversized outfit reminds the criminal of his son—the way he used to spend whole afternoons dressing up in his father's clothes.14

"I'm sorry, but you're gonna have to put the blindfold back on and lay down in the front of the truck," the criminal says.

"It's no problem," the kid says.

They drop the torture video off with the gas station clerk who is in cahoots.

"What do you want to eat?" the criminal says.

The kids says, "Pancakes, please." Shit, the criminal thinks, this kid is such a fucking doll.

The kid is lying down in the front of the truck, curled into a ball. He looks a lot like Bobby and acts like him too—soft in a way that makes you want to protect him. They also have the same sharp nose and the same sandy brown hair. It is only a matter of time before this is getting confusing for the criminal and he starts petting the kid on the head and saying, "I'm sorry Bobby, I didn't mean to hurt you. I really didn't mean to hurt you." The kid asks if this is still part of the game.

"I know, I know I shouldn't have let you swim out that far. I'm a shit father. What do you want me to say?" He is screaming now and pulling the car over to the side of the road.

The kid sits up and takes off his blindfold. The criminal is crying and soft in a way that makes the kid want to protect him. The criminal is gasping for breath like someone held his head under water. The criminal takes a wad of cash out of his pants, places it in the kid's hands and whispers, "Run."

After the kidnapping, everyone wants to know what happened, but all the kid can do is tell the story about the shark and the whale. The parents send the son to therapy twice a week and watch him fall asleep at night. They pack little notes in his lunch saying how much they love him. They forget their daughter exists. Maggie develops a pill habit and an eating disorder. The church sends Maggie to rehab.15

In group, it takes a while to get Maggie talking, but when she does, her feelings pour out of her in the form of sharks and whales. She gets to the part about the killer whale and finds she is still hungry as the killer whale after she has eaten the shark. She swallows ocean water in deep gulps. She nibbles on starfish mindlessly. She bites into dolphin butts, and once she starts, she can't stop.

Like anything else, her technique catches on. Over time, everyone in group starts talking in terms of sharks and whales.16 It begins slowly. The therapists try to steer the conversations back to reality, but the shark/whale format is allowing everyone to confront their issues so bravely and get at the root of their addictions so effectively that one afternoon during a staff meeting, the director decides to formalize the process. She publishes several peer-reviewed studies and a book on new ways of deconstructing addiction through magical realism. But it's only a matter of time before hard science gets misconstrued and makes its way into pop psychology: memoirs, Oprah, the works. "Oceanic magical realism is the new normal," the t-shirts say. And it's true, because people cease to communicate via conversational realism and only in oceanic magical realism.

When Maggie gets out of rehab, her own mother and father mime eating their daughter as a way of expressing their love. When Maggie says she's going to the mall, her parents cover their ears. The realism is too excruciating.

There is a new Beach Boys song piping through every store in the mall.17 It starts with plankton and ends with a killer whale. Maggie thinks, "What have I done?" She buys a frozen yogurt with shark gummies, eats one bite, and throws the rest in the trash.18 Afterwards, she walks over to the comic book store to leaf through new issues, but she can't find anything she wants. She asks the clerk for help.

"Yeah, hi," she says. The clerk is playing Nintendo behind the counter.

"Yeah?" he says without looking up.

"Where's the Wonder Woman?" she asks.

"Don't carry it anymore," he says.

"Batman?"

"Nope."

"Spawn?"

"Nope."

"Superman?" He pushes a comic over the counter with his eyes still on the screen.19

"Fucking sharks and whales," Maggie says. She feels like going to the bathroom to puke up her bite of yogurt and gummy. How is she supposed to focus on combating her eating disorder in light of this total fucking societal disaster?

She decides to go see a movie to distract herself. She walks to the other end of the mall and buys a ticket to whatever's playing. She sits in the back row. The movie is about a young girl with an eating disorder who gets eaten by a shark and then becomes the shark and then is eaten by the killer whale and becomes the killer whale. In the end she binge-eats a whole town.

Maggie says, "Are you fucking kidding me?" And when she turns around, everyone is smiling in a way that can only be described as creepy.

The music is pulsing as the protagonist gobbles up the town. Maggie finds herself walking towards the front of the screen—her pace in step with the pulsing synthesizers. And at the same time Maggie starts punching the movie screen, Lakshmi is beating up a mime.

Lakshmi sees her story everywhere: in nursery rhymes, pornography, the presidential address.20 And each time they meet, Lakshmi is more confident that this vessel will never serve as an absolute truth for all. Language, communication even, then becomes less about truth and more about isolated creatures piecing together bits of familiar sound and motion in order to feel less alone. And this is why when Lakshmi sees the mime making swimming motions, she punches him square in the face and she doesn't stop. Not because the mime is at fault, but because language fails, and because he is an object on top of many objects, which society calls language, and all of it makes Lakshmi angry and slightly disgusted, but really she doesn't know why.   

Lakshmi and Maggie both go to juvie for their crimes. They see each other in the cafeteria. They are looking at each other, but it feels less like looking at someone else and more like looking into a mirror. If you can fall in love in a moment, they do. And at night during television time, Maggie whispers into Lakshmi's ear, "Permission to speak freely?" because that's what you say when you want to speak outside the story.21 And when Maggie speaks, her realism falls on Lakshmi's ears like fresh rain.

"Want to get out of here?" she asks.

Laskhmi says, "Yes."

And so they stage a riot and break out of juvie. When they get out of jail, they hotwire a convertible and rob a gas station. They commit to driving twelve hours each day until the story is behind them. Periodically, they stop to buy Cokes and Whoopee Pies. They pull off the highway at night in search of quiet gravel roads to fuck and sleep. As they drive, they talk about their new life. They'll get GEDs, a little house with blue shutters, start a garden where they'll grow tomatoes and watermelons they'll throw in the back of a little tractor at the peak of the season when there's too much for the two of them to eat. They'll deliver the excess to neighbors and stop in for afternoon cookies and updates about grandchildren and graduations. They'll grow fresh herbs and make sun tea. Each day they'll make a different kind: hibiscus, mint, and lemon one day; the next day orange, tarragon, and sassafras. They'll poor the liquid over ice in the mornings. They will never go thirsty.22

They'll find a town where the story hasn't permeated and where others are still thinking, still asking, "Is realism or magical realism the most effective tool for this situation?"23 They feel lucky in the way only young lovers do. But as one sister dreams of a new life, another is alone with Mother and a NOVA narrator who is talking about spiders who eat their lovers.

Lakshmi sucks on Maggie's fingers as they drive. She gnaws off a cuticle and lets it slide down the back of her throat. The skin tastes like briny seaweed. Lakshmi lets herself enjoy the taste of her lover's oceanic skin for a few miles. Then, she pulls the convertible over to the side of the road. She hands Maggie the rest of the gas station cash, takes her ear, and whispers, "Run."24

 

 

 

 

Introduction to Endnotes

This story does not need endnotes. You do not need to read them. They are not the author's; they are not her fault or her responsibility.

I cannot say for certain why anyone chooses to write, but I know why I read. It is to find friends, like minds, to not be alone. It is the chance to share a dialogue with a kindred soul. The best stories are in some way unfinished, saving a space for you to place yourself in. The tragedy is so often this conversation is one-sided, a love-letter sent from the past with no reply possible.

I am fortunate then that I know this writer. More fortunate still that we have been able to share great conversations over too many glasses of wine. Fortunate that she has learned to interrupt me as often as I her, that this is not rudeness but excitement. Fortunate that she share my love of tangents and untrodden paths. But most fortunate of all that she is such a good writer, and so when I read her work, I have the opportunity to send the letter back. These notes are points of connection I have to this story—the things I'd tell her if either of us could handle that much drink or juggle so many branching roads in our inebriated euphoria.

You do not need to read these notes. The story has no need of them. Any mistakes herein are mine alone, and they are here only because I cannot say for certain why I write—only why I read.

-Charles Tunstall Peirce

 

Endnotes

[0] For a certain set of us the modern world begins with the Comte de Lautréamont (Isadore Ducasse) and Les Chants de Maldoror, that great meditation on evil. In its opening, the anti-hero Maldoror watches from the shore as a terrible storm consumes a ship and its surviving sailors are then in turn consumed by sharks. One man struggles beyond this heroically, survives, and escapes, swimming for the safety of land. Maldoror takes aim with his gun and kills him, dooming him to the sea. By the end of the book Maldoror will have not so much killed God as destroyed him, removing him from his throne and taking his place.

I could write about shipwrecks forever—they are my favorite symbol. But the short of it is that in the old world, the shipwreck always carried meaning—it was an act of God. This is why women were looked at with such suspicion on ships (original sin!) and why the captain must always go down with the ship. A sinking ship was the sign of displeasure from the divine. Something had gone wrong and somebody would have to pay. In the new world, consensus does not seriously believe that a shipwreck or a plane crash or a car crash is an act of God—and even if it is, it is not one of collective punishment for an individual sin, delivered equally to all because of a singular mistake.

Nietzsche also dethroned God shortly after Lautréamont, but then God got revenge with syphilis and insanity. Mallarmé too took on God. The visual form of his poem A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance is as important as the words, cascading across the pages in a spiral that mimics its opening shipwreck. Mallarmé lived to a reasonable age for his era (if not my taste), and his legacy has been more the glorification of typography, design, and the printing press—safe from a worse death because he was doing the new god's work (and championing, perhaps, chaos as the new hand of fate).

Lautréamont died at 24, in sickness, during the siege of Paris, leaving behind no memoir and much mystery.

 

[1] It is unfortunate that the most recent stories on the early research on dolphins have only been of interest because they concern sordid tales of bestiality. But if those prurient tales drenched in original sin had a hidden agenda, perhaps it would be to cover up why we know so much about dolphins—that reason would be John C. Lilly, surely a genius, and responsible for so many discoveries of science and psychoanalysis (including the more sophisticated side of electrical stimulation of the brain). An ethical masochism that said one should never conduct an experiment on another creature that one would not conduct on oneself lead Lilly to become the subject of his own increasingly extreme and dangerous experiments. What started with the dissection of corpses would lead to the dissection of his self. Under the guise of science, Lilly was willing to amputate every aspect of himself in the search for truth. And he certainly found something.

He documents all of this in his book The Center of the Cyclone, a text I devoured in my own search to understand the possible science behind my own experiences with psychedelics—there remains far too little published research on these subjects, precisely I think because of the danger they represent to power. If man can free his self by himself, from all external forces, then how in the world do you control him?

The scientific truth behind drugs is that they are not the invasion of the body by a foreign substance; they only work on us because we already have those chemicals within us. Drugs create an imbalance in the natural system that makes other states of experience possible. It is for this reason that the belief that perhaps, somewhere in the Amazon, there exists an as-yet-undiscovered plant that can cure all ills is not simply New Age wishfulness.

The Center of The Cyclone details how Lilly ended up in Florida, studying the brains and lives of dolphins and realizing how incredibly intelligent they were. At the same time, Lilly began spending increasing amounts of time in sensory deprivation—under increasingly heavy doses of LSD. Eventually, through this process, he got somewhere: to an ecstatic state of pure feeling and peace with reality. He would in no way separate what he learned from the dolphins from what he learned via float tanks and drugs. They were one and the same.

As the consummate explorer of extremes, Lilly was not satisfied with reaching that state purely through chemical means (and it should be noted that the drop back from an ecstatic state to a normal one wrecked his body and his mind for prolonged periods, putting him in physical and mental anguish). It would lead him on a journey through every extreme of the so-called New Age in the search for that state, and he would find it again and again—via ritual dance, physical denials, sexual exploration, and other indulgences. Eventually, Lilly got to the point where by force of will alone he could place himself into the ecstatic state he so desired and saw as higher truth. Based on his own words, the testament of others, and some footage I have seen, by his later years Lilly was typical of those peaceful and pleasant New Age souls who seem lost but entirely happy. Always euphoric and beatific, but also so fragile and brittle and shaky—just because you can reach a place does not mean you should spend all of your time there. Nonetheless, he saw most of a century, dying at 86.

The old masters all say the same thing about drugs—that they are a shortcut to enlightenment but not the only path. In his way, Lilly proved they were right. This does not mean he proved enlightenment itself.

Lilly documents the different levels of consciousness en route to the ecstatic state of enlightenment in The Center of the Cyclone with a bizarre mathematical system that must have made sense to him but doesn't give concrete insight. There is, however, a small clue late in the book: "I allowed the equivalent of a grand mal seizure to take place while maintaining full consciousness. Somehow, now, I could stand this seizurelike [sic] activity far better than I had ever been able to before."

Nowhere before in the book does Lilly mention seizures, a medical condition that might contradict so many of his claims—and thus the possibility that others could follow. We do not all sail in the same ship.

Late in his life, my father had a seizure and lost his short-term memory, living his last years in a home near some of his children and no longer able to remember the reasons he had been exiled from them in the first place—he had escaped his own story. The doctors could never quite figure out what was wrong with him, though he would occasionally continue to have seizures—some actually helping his condition, some making it worse. "Temporal Lobe Epilepsy" was as close as they'd come to a diagnosis.

Temporal Lobe Epilepsy has as interesting quality to it—a condition called "Geschwind Syndrome" after Norman Geschwind's research. Many of those who suffer from it become more obsessed—or more sensitive to—religious and metaphysical ideas, images, and thinking. It is as though the spiritual gives them euphoria. Science might then say that all religious belief and feeling is just a particular part of the brain receiving excessive electrical stimulus. Mysticism would argue instead that religious experience helps the brain get to a different vibratory state, closer to truth. Does science contain the divine or does the divine contain science? Who wants to throw the dice on that?

 

[2] The worst of people are like sharks—they don't evolve; they just eat. 

 

[3] By now I would hope it obvious I'm suggesting there's a war going, fought between the cracks. And it's over an obvious thing. God was killed and something had to replace him, and that thing is also obvious—it's man. But humanity is not a singular thing like God; humanity is a vast collective and a collective must somehow be governed if it is to be made whole in one voice.

Man was once governed by religion. Is it now by Reason? Science? Computers? Data? Chance? Capitalism? Commerce? Who owns who? Who rules what?

I will not discuss Freud and Jung and Reich. Nor Marx, Adorno, or Debord. Not Wittgenstein, Heidegger, or Lukács. But they were all a part of it. And as long as their words remain, they're still in the fight. 

 

[4] Consumption is a curious idea. Is it to make us healthy and strong or to make us feel good? Or is it to become the thing we eat? Animism predates religion—the belief that everything has a soul and by extension then consumption becomes the making of the other part of you. Christians still consume the body of Christ, just as cannibal tribes do not eat their victims for food but for power over them. These days, the most foolish of the rich buy desserts that contain actual gold. Surely this cannot taste good, surely it cannot be good for you. It proves only that you have money, and money despite intelligence—is it then that you deserve your money because you are divinely blessed and better than everyone else by right of birth?

Evolution proves the validity of the belief in certain original sins. Incest is taboo because it retards the gene pool. Mad Cow Disease—the by-product of feeding cows to cows, violation of the taboo against cannibalism—is so destructive because it creates prions in the brain. Not a virus at all, but super proteins that bore spiraling whirlpools through the physical tissue of the brain. There is a family in France afflicted with a disease that makes it impossible to sleep. They die young, their brains riddled with holes caused by prions. Or perhaps they die young because they never get to dream.

Evolution wants one thing most certainly—that life go on. And for life to go on, it must be varied and unrepeating. It must adapt and change as the world changes around it—even as the world changes by its touch.

 

[5] You may always ask a suicidal person if they are thinking of killing themselves. It is not a trigger. Small but assured consolation when you are worried about a friend. Better news is that the person who is threatening to kill themselves has not made up their mind. The person who really wants to kill themselves has already done so, with no fanfare and no story except perhaps a last goodbye. It is only when death is a choice that there is room for debate. Choice allows conflict.

 

[6] The real problem with suicide is authorship. Who writes the book of life? Who controls man? God or his inheritor? Doctor Kevorkian or the United States Government?

 

[7] I think the true terror of mania for those who have survived it and returned to a "normal" state is that you learn to fear those most beautiful places humans are capable of reaching—you can no longer trust happiness, euphoria, exuberance, confidence. You are denied your own strengths in the fear they might be your very weakness, your very downfall. I wonder if John C Lilly ever feared where he ended up.

 

[8] Religion would of course tell us our holy men are most important of all, furthest on the road to perfection in the earthly realm. Science might cynically point out that their vows of celibacy simply remove them from the gene pool, terminate the causal, familial line. Who wants perfection? Not evolution it seems. At least not a perfection defined in stasis.

 

[9] The French novelist Eugène Sue is credited with the invention of the serialized novel with Les Mystères de Paris. Rife with anti-Catholic sentiment, its protagonist was one of Lautréamont's main influences for Les Chants de Maldoror. Who, I wonder, started that rumor I sadly no longer have a source for, that upon his death, a special edition of Sue's novel was made and bound with his own flesh? Diabolic in his own age, grotesque in this one—a sort of metaphysical self-cannibalism that only serial killers are supposed to practice (whose base commonality is that love and violence have become horribly intertwined). But then every author dissects themselves and give the pieces to the world in a slow ritual of self-destruction that often feels more euphoric than wrong, trying to make their dream a little more real.

 

[10] The secret of so many alcoholics and addicts is that they do not drink to feel good—they drink for the hangover. For another chance to wallow in shame and beat themselves for it.

 

[11] While rightfully considered a masterpiece now—masterpiece because it gifted to the world the artistic form of the blockbuster, as Eugène Sue before had gifted it the serialized novel—Jaws was plagued with problems in production. Based on a novel by Peter Benchley, the wreckage of the story is evident if you but pay attention. Hidden in Jaws is a terrifying message to children. The hero's son is out playing on the dock with his new boat, a birthday present given a day early. In panic and fear his father runs out and pulls him off the water, terrifying the child. The birthday is never discussed again. It never happens. The next day there are only more deaths. Nature as divine act has returned in Jaws—forbidding a child his due rite of passage, canceling his birthday and with it his ability to age or change. Nobody notices this part of the story—nobody cares. It is unimportant in the grand scheme of things, in the battle between man and divine terror. Pay no attention to the marginalia.

The smallest spaces sometimes contain the biggest truths—a total system revealing itself only in its exceptions, errors, and hidden places. 

Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for his thoughts and words, among them the idea that God was only knowable by his manifestations. To the Church, it was a denial of their authority via divine law. To science, it was the necessary proof for God's existence. To Bruno, I suspect, it was a glorious declaration of having found God everywhere.

I said I would not discuss Wittgenstein, and I won't, though I will quote him: "The limits of my language are the limits of my world."

And so the same with Adorno: "Only that which does not fit into this world is true."

And finally, James Joyce: "Civilization may be said indeed to be the creation of its outlaws."

Let us not talk about what Joyce did to his daughter, to his child. After all—she was insane, in a mental place beyond the acceptable.

 

[12] Hegel said, "Every idea extended into infinity becomes its own opposite."

An idea that becomes its opposite is what any story—serialized and given a mandate to keep being told but never be boring (with no higher purpose, say, than maximized, blockbuster-sized profit)—should become. But the opposite of an idea is not necessarily the information it contains: the opposite of an idea—that ephemeral intangible thing that knows almost no cage other than books and minds—is the idea become thing. Become real.

As the product of the great elucidator of the dialectical method, Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit might well be called a proof of God. But even though Hegel was himself a by-product of his time and thus believed in both the power of church and the nation state, it was not their gods he was proving. Marx (and here I have lied a third, last time) is Hegel's system with one key element removed—the belief in the higher power, in the Spirit. It is Dialectical Materialism because it has no transcendent Totality above itself—all Object, no Spirit. But there is an unfortunate truth here, hidden in the insertion of this intentional error—Hegel's system doesn't quite work without the Spirit. Change the rules and you might break the game.

 

[13] Games are not synonymous with play: every child learns this quickly. Perhaps that is all growing up is, losing the play but being stuck in a game. Is death a game then, a throw of the dice? Do games have meaning beyond the rules we give them? Is it about playing the game or beating your opponent? Victory or ecstatic peace with your moments spent in time? Are we replicating rules in miniature that are truly there—learning to best them—or are we simply designed to be desperate for rules to give us meaning?

 

[14] All children are mirrors of their parents in some form or another—we all dress up in our parents' clothes. My father loved Hemingway. That was his favorite writer—when he asked me who I thought the greatest American writer was I said Faulkner. With Dos Passos a close second. (Why did I forget Melville?) He did not disagree. But he loved Hemingway, loved him so much that like many of his generation he wanted to wear his clothes, fantasized that suicide was the only meaningful way to go. Hemingway's suicide is a lie of course, of sorts. They all believed the great fighter—who could make the struggle of one man with a fish seem the epic of an entire world—had gone mad, sunk into the paranoid belief he was being spied upon and persecuted by the government of his own country. Finally, in his madness, he killed himself. But, of course, they were spying on him—they were persecuting him. It is not that Hemingway killed himself; it is that he killed the thing they wanted to control. He went down fighting.

When my father reached the age of Hemingway's death, he lost his own desire for that end. My father was always afraid of death, terrified of it. But he was not terrified like a man who runs and hides from it. He was terrified like a man who knew he would have to fight it again and again and eventually it would win. When he woke up in the hospital, after yet another seizure, unsure of where he was or how he got there, he immediately ripped the tubes and wires from his arms, nose, mouth—better to destroy yourself than be victim of unknown tortures. He went down fighting.

 

[15] Who rules the world? God? The Church? The Psychiatrist? The Drug? The place the drug takes you?

 

[16] William Burroughs's method was not one of literary technique—he was not trying to write. He was trying to control reality. The cut-up was a return to animism, the belief that if you had a part of something, you had its soul and could control it. He went and he recorded car crashes and then he went out and he played them on city streets, trying to summon the one with the other—the thing with the idea of the thing. Nowadays, nobody believes a car crash is an act of God, the proof of higher power. Well, almost no one. To Burroughs language was a virus, a thing that got into you and changed you, gave its qualities to you—like eating gold. Or shit.

But let us not forget, lest we romanticize another drug-user too much, William Burroughs murdered his wife—a hole through the head, nothing like the path of a prion. William Burroughs cut off his own finger and gave it to the man he wanted—violence and love so horribly intertwined. He was mad, that one.

 

[17] And here our author slips, makes a mistake—accidentally reveals a higher truth. Her reliance on the consistency of symbolism, which so unifies the threads of her tale, tells an obvious lie. There will be no new Beach Boys record. The necessary authors are dead. What is being propagated is not magic realism; it is absurdism. Capitalism, of course, will prove me wrong with every new Beach Boys release. Again and again.

 

[18] Copyright is ownership, and from the moment it rises up, ideas become things that can be owned, like a spirit somehow grasped and held. Steal somebody else's idea—kill their claim to authority—and you will be punished by a higher power. No one owns the right to gummy bears. This is why everyone sells them and makes more profit with them than other movie candies. The legal claim of ownership, causality, and authority has been lost. Look at what madness happens when the world is not properly controlled.

 

[19] All superheroes are the continued variation of the mythology of gods—of men become divine and the responsibility that brings. Surely, in this story's world of sharks and whales, where every superhero is no longer needed, Aquaman would survive. Aquaman: the most maligned and mocked of superheroes—Superman under the sea, King Arthur returned (as foretold) to save the world. Aquaman, who is made fun of even in his own story in the only way it seems possible to make him regal: that he will still act like a king when everybody treats him like a clown. What kind of power is that—talking to dolphins?

 

[20] It is of interest to me that—despite so much repeating sea-oriented symbolism—we do not find traces of Jonah and The Whale in this story. Nor Captain Ahab. But certainly Bartleby—that furious repetition of passive defiance that destroys everything that tries to fight it—and certainly then also the sad truth that Melville was a success after his time, not during it, like so many writers. The successful never survive longer than their own dream.

 

[21] I have had the great joy of getting to see a previous version of this story which was different though in spirit much the same. That story was grand. This one is too. When you encounter a thing that seems beyond yourself—you do not want to touch it. You do not want to interfere. You fear that your own imprint may cause its downfall, that you may dethrone something greater than yourself. Like the manic, you fear the very joy you feel. It is not your child, you do not want to do anything that could make you responsible for it—and thus linked to its life or death, dragged along with it.

I do not think Michelle knows as much about mythology as I do. Equally obvious to me, she does not need to. In my arrogance I have hinted—more than once—that perhaps her two mysterious primal sisters are misnamed—that she is writing about a goddess other than Lakshmi. But then, surely, I read myth and history and everything else in a search for answers because it is beyond me to see the divine, and yet I hope to find its manifestations. Whereas, at least from these eyes, Michelle simply expresses some of those very manifestations, whether by conscious intent or some unfortunate connection to something deeper and purer than the written word.

The dancing, multi-armed and multi-faced gods of India are not monstrous in their appearance—that is a mistake of the perception of the Western mind. Rather, they are like Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2—a pictorial representation in three-dimensional space of something much greater. Each arm is but an aspect of them, each face too, just as each god and their consort is just an aspect of something greater. Whatever I think I know of the stories of the goddess Lakshmi are but one aspect of her—and if any god is an infinite thing then surely their aspects are beyond number.

Let us not forget, Duchamp quit art, but never chess, never games. To the best of my knowledge he managed to avoid murder, suicide, or progeny—like a holy man.

 

[22] Years ago now, the Coca-Cola Company was given a mandate by its president—he wanted Coke to be the number one consumed beverage in the world. Competition had become fierce and the new environment-consciousness-fad of bottled water was threatening the bottom line (for having killed God we had realized we had also killed Nature). But how in the world can you ever get more people to choose Coke than water? One is a drug disguised in sugar, carbonation, and bright primordial, antediluvian red; the other is the food of gods—or at least of the humanity that tore down the old God. The answer of course is that Coke has long been on its dialectical road to infinity—it is not a thing, it is an idea.

The Coca-Cola Company started selling bottled water.

The divine is only knowable through its manifestations.

 

[23] I sent my own father into a seizure on Father's Day, over the phone. Some 3,000 miles away (because it is easier to love a family when you don't have to face them every day), and yet still able to commit patricide. I know exactly how I did it: I made him remember. 

He survived and maybe that was because of my will too: I did call my sister, she did call the nurses, he did get help. But I wouldn't talk to him on the phone after that. It was too painful, or perhaps the pain was in the conversations themselves, how without his short-term memory he'd just repeat the same questions every few minutes, and I, eventually bored, would start fabricating new and increasingly outlandish answers. It is amazing what a terror ceaseless, unending, unchanging repetition is.

When my sister told him why I wouldn't call anymore, he laughed, and with the devilish smile and sparkle to his eyes that I can still now see in my mind's eye—years after his death—he said "I bet he can't do it again."

I wasn't willing to roll the dice on that one.

If suicide is authorship of the self, then what is murder of one's own father? Titans eat their own children but they must know they have already lost, for they are ruled by a fear greater than themselves. Gods kill their parents and do not fear anything. The rest of us go mad.

 

[24] For a certain set of us the modern world ends with Isadore Ducasse (the former Comte de Lautréamont) and his Poésies, that great meditation on good:

Words expressing evil are destined to take on a more positive meaning. Ideas improve. The sense of words takes part in this process.

Plagiarism is necessary. It is implied in the idea of progress. It clasps an author's sentence tight, uses his expressions, eliminates a false idea, replaces it with the right idea.

To be well wrought, a maxim does not need to be corrected. It needs to be developed.

One of the grand narratives of history—perhaps the grand narrative of history—is the death of god and his eventual resurrection. The Christians think this story is theirs, but that is because all conquerors must erase the traces of their own impermanence. They must trick you into thinking they have been here forever. We have killed god, dethroned him and exiled him to the bottom of the sea for all his sins. I wonder what form it is he'll take when the resurrection comes.

I do not personally believe in Evil: I think it is a fiction, a necessary idea that allows the creation of an even more necessary thing—Good. Good held as an ideal and then proven in action, made real in its manifestations.

Without the belief in Evil, though, how can there be some grand battle between right and wrong? Between God and man? Between man and what it is that controls him? Religion? Capitalism? Science? Chance? How do we choose sides? How can we know?

Make no mistake, court no error however small—I believe (and you do not have to, you do not have to swim in someone else's madness nor board another's ship) that there is a grand battle for control of reality, fought in the cracks of history and ideas and progress, between two options so horrible that nobody who looks on the truth knows which one to choose. On the one side, Love. On the other, Free Will. Be consumed or run.