Don’t be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen.george saunders, the braindead megaphone
chomsky-foucault debate in 5-seconds
from J.D. Daniels’ Letter from Kentucky
Apart from those pleasures I had been bored and sullen, reading photocopied pages of The Antichrist folded inside Sports Illustrated, waiting to escape from that army of hayseeds. But twenty years later my father’s foster mother is dead, as anyone but me might have foreseen, because she was a person and not a tree; and I would eat a photocopier in exchange for two more bowls of her soup beans and cornbread—one for me, and one for my father, to whom it would mean the world made young again.
Instead I name these places. I throw my song into the mouth of death. I break his teeth. There is no death, there is no hell.
I drove past the old Russell House Grocery, and there was what I wanted to find: the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, established 1860. I have ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼seen my father cry three times, and one of those times was in this church, at his foster father’s funeral.
The second time I saw my father cry was while he was strangling me. He had said my friends, Scott and Allen and Gary, were no-good weirdos and long-haired faggots, and I was on the verge of becoming one too, and that if I didn’t act right he was going to cut my hair himself with the lawnmower.
I dared him to, more than a little frightened that he would try it. That was just the sort of thing he was always doing: kicking in a locked door, or pushing around a far-too-young panhandler with a sign that claimed he had been a VIETNAM VETERAN.
“Step around the corner, John Henry,” my father said, “I’d like to have a word with this young man in private.” He nudged the kid with his boot. “Yes, I do mean you—you dilapidated cocksucker.”
And afterwards, in the cab of his truck, trembling, beating his fists against the steering wheel, he said, “What’s the matter with these people, Johnny? I’m a Vietnam veteran. And just look at me. I’m fine. I’m fine!”
I dared my father to cut my hair, and he picked me up by my throat and smashed me against the wall, then threw me through the doorway into my bedroom and leapt on top of me, and he was strangling me with both hands and shaking me and cursing and shouting at me before he came to his senses and started to cry.
“My family is falling apart,” he said, and it was true, I was destroying our family, why couldn’t I do as I was told without having impulses and desires of my own.
That is the second time I saw my father cry. The third time is
… Thank God that morality for Gass is the ugly truth laid bare, grotesqueries and all, and that simple punishments, happy endings, and “lessons learned” are not suitable for the big reality of his fiction. What he has to say about humanity is communicated not by plot but through the radical vitality and violent inventiveness of his language.
Gass’s relationship to language is at once baroque, modernist, and extremely post-post-everything. He’s bent and invented more words in English than any wordsmith I can think of. His “On Being Blue,” a meditation on the color blue, is one of the most unique philosophical poetic riffs in world literature. Gass is so often pure music. You can’t find a single book review or any of his utterances in print where he’s not totally on point, being beautiful and perfect with his prose. Over the course of a 60-year career, his style and big fat word riffing has never dropped, nor has his tonal range narrowed.
In the revised and expanded preface to his first collection of stories, “In the Heart of the Heart of the Country and Other Stories,” William Gass writes about searching for the better word, since in his mind there always is a better one, and that insistence, that personal demand and writerly pressure, is central to his achievement as a fiction writer and critic. That contract with himself has also influenced several generations of writers. David Foster Wallace comes to mind. But his effect on other writers is not as traceable as the Barthelme-absurdist influence. Gass’s heirs are diffuse, his lineage is less specific, his talents, the full complex rainbow; those who’ve fallen under his spell have also spread far and wide.
Life-long readers of Gass know this: the man has never written a sentence that isn’t astonishing. He has the humility, scope, and all-embraciveness of Montaigne, the promiscuity of Bataille, and he is a despiser of plots. Conventional narrative is like rat poison to Gass. Not in my house, not on my page has always been his wide postmodern stance. Conventional narrative, to him, is the great stifler. It sends the wrong message to the world, of rigidity and unpleasant imposed order, manipulative hygiene that smells like ammonia. For Gass, conventional narrative kills the life inside language.
William H. Gass, post-post-everything author
Reduce Bloom by cross multiplication of reverses of fortune, from which these supports protected him, and by elimination of all positive values to a negligible negative irrational unreal quantity.
Successively, in descending helotic order: Poverty: that of the outdoor hawker of imitation jewellery, the dun for the recovery of bad and doubtful debts, the poor rate and deputy cess collector. Mendicancy: that of the fraudulent bankrupt with negligible assets paying 1s. 4d. in the #, sandwichman, distributor of throwaways, nocturnal vagrant, insinuating sycophant, maimed sailor, blind stripling, superannuated bailiff’s man, marfeast, lickplate, spoilsport, pickthank, eccentric public laughingstock seated on bench of public park under discarded perforated umbrella. Destitution: the inmate of Old Man’s House (Royal Hospital), Kilmainham, the inmate of Simpson’s Hospital for reduced but respectable men permanently disabled by gout or want of sight. Nadir of misery: the aged impotent disfranchised ratesupported moribund lunatic pauper.
With which attendant indignities?
The unsympathetic indifference of previously amiable females, the contempt of muscular males, the acceptance of fragments of bread, the simulated ignorance of casual acquaintances, the latration of illegitimate unlicensed vagabond dogs, the infantile discharge of decomposed vegetable missiles, worth little or nothing or less than nothing.
By what could such a situation be precluded?
By decease (change of state), by departure (change of place).
The latter, by the line of least resistance.
Under what guidance, following what signs?
At sea, septentrional, by night the polestar, located at the point of intersection of the right line from beta to alpha in Ursa Major produced and divided externally at omega and the hypotenuse of the rightangled triangle formed by the line alpha omega so produced and the line alpha delta of Ursa Major. On land, meridional, a bispherical moon, revealed in imperfect varying phases of lunation through the posterior interstice of the imperfectly occluded skirt of a carnose negligent perambulating female, a pillar of the cloud by day.
What universal binomial denominations would be his as entity and nonentity?
Assumed by any or known to none. Everyman or Noman.
What tributes his?
Honour and gifts of strangers, the friends of Everyman. A nymph immortal, beauty, the bride of Noman.
Would the departed never nowhere nohow reappear?
Ever he would wander, selfcompelled, to the extreme limit of his cometary orbit, beyond the fixed stars and variable suns and telescopic planets, astronomical waifs and strays, to the extreme boundary of space, passing from land to land, among peoples, amid events. Somewhere imperceptibly he would hear and somehow reluctantly, suncompelled, obey the summons of recall. Whence, disappearing from the constellation of the Northern Crown he would somehow reappear reborn above delta in the constellation of Cassiopeia and after incalculable eons of peregrination return an estranged avenger, a wreaker of justice on malefactors, a dark crusader, a sleeper awakened, with financial resources (by supposition) surpassing those of Rothschild or of the silver King.
What would render such return irrational?
An unsatisfactory equation between an exodus and return in time through reversible space and an exodus and return in space through irreversible time.
What play of forces, inducing inertia, rendered departure undesirable?
The lateness of the hour, rendering procrastinatory: the obscurity of the night, rendering invisible: the uncertainty of thoroughfares, rendering perilous: the necessity for repose, obviating movement: the proximity of an occupied bed, obviating research: the anticipation of warmth (human) tempered with coolness (linen), obviating desire and rendering desirable: the statue of Narcissus, sound without echo, desired desire.
James Joyce, Ulysses