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  • - * 13 DOORS OF X* *Meeah Williams* The Barking Cat Press * 2015 Brooklyn, NY * Seattle, WA copyright 2015 Meeah Williams/The Barking Cat...

Sunday, January 31, 2016


=book recently read: You & Me by Padgett Powell

This book is just two guys talking. There is no description—not even of the two guys—sometimes you can't even tell which of them is talking—and it doesn't make a difference—it's just two nameless—undescribed—is that a word?—no—why not?—guys talking about anything and everything—including nonsense—sometimes literally meaningless gibberish—whatever pops into their heads. They do refer to themselves as old—but how old we don't know—not ready for the nursing home but old enough to see it coming to that. They refer to themselves as drinking. They are probably at least half in the bag most of the time. They do locate themselves—somewhere between Jacksonville, Florida and Bakersfield California—and sometimes they seem to be sitting on a porch—other times in a kitchen—and the neighborhood is in decline. They often talk about the hazards of making a liquor run and the good possibility of antagonistic encounters with "the brothers" if they should be feeling so adventurous.

"You & Me" has often been described as a mock homage to Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" except these guys aren't waiting for anyone—no one is coming—that is quite clear—especially to them. There isn't even the hope—by which I mean delusion—that anyone is coming. No one is coming. There is no one to come. They're on their sad alone. Well, except for each other. And sometimes the dialogue, being unattributed as it is, leads you to suspect that there arent two men talking at all. That maybe there's just one man talking—one lonely oldish drunken man talking to himself—and you can't help but ponder if that man isn't the author of "You & Me"—which, of course, it ultimately is—it's Padgett Powell talking/writing to himself—but also to You—& Me. Hints here of Martin Buber's "I & Thou" cannot be ignored—they suggest themselves—but only by the conspicuously gaping absence—in the case of present book—of any Thou. There is no Thou as there is no Godot. There is no Thou. No Godot. But there is You. 


 There are just these two disembodied unattributed voices—two, possibly—that sound suspiciously identical. Two old guys—ostensibly. Their minds wander, free-associate, drift like dandelion spores over the fields of pop culture, philosophy, history both personal and global—they jabber aimlessly about Jayne Mansfield, flying dogs, World War II, Peter Jennings, the meanings of non-existent words, the dried up creek behind the house, women—and the lack of them in their lives—impotence, cowardice, and mortality. The fear of death is a recurrent topic. They entertain the notion that maybe they should live each day like their last—get the most out of what life they have left—only to ruminate on what kind of person can actually follow up on that notion—that platitude—coming to the conclusion that not many have the temperament or the resources to live each day like it were their last—almost no one actually—certainly they don't—so they resign themselves to sitting there, continuing their dialogue—or one man's monologue disguised as a dialogue—of comic despair as they wait—as we all wait—for the inevitable.

A man and all his effects…is a sad business—one of them says—you get right down to it. Grave to him, silly to the universe. He can't get rid of the crap that weighs him down. He cherishes his ditty bag. He needs a house fire, of course, but he also needs a brain fire.

Maybe—they stop to wonder—they're really a couple of nihilists. Maybe you do, too. But no, they conclude, after further ramble, although they believe in nothing, live for nothing, consider life to be pointless and in the end for nothing, they lack the philosophical rigor and purpose—you might even say the passion—to be nihilists. They are just two guys, two bumps on a log, two frogs on a log, perhaps, croaking until they croak, until death swoops down like an owl, digs its talons into their soft, speckled, mortal flesh, & carries them off into the chaotic scatter of cold stars in the black night sky.

Who would read a book like this, you might be asking. And indeed, to be perfectly frank, not a lot of people do. It's funny—hilarious at times—gallows humor of the Beckettian sort to be sure—but not everyone wants to acknowledge that they're facing the gallows in the morning—maybe not literally the very next morning—but one of these very next mornings—call it the "always present in principle because inevitable metaphorical next morning." Yes, you are always facing death in the metaphorical morning.

Dispute nothing
Disputing nothing is the first step unto miracles.
Disputing nothing is the first step through the difficult door to happiness.

That's what our two nameless, faceless, inebriated porch-swinging sages conclude about three-quarters of the way through "You & Me." That and the hope for the aforementioned house fire that frees you from attachment to all the crap from your past. And don't forget the mind-fire, too. That's the best you can do.

The fear still remains though. The fear can never be sidestepped.
You won't be laughing when the Angel of Death comes winging his way to your front door.
But you can laugh in the meantime.
You can laugh while you're waiting.
It makes the time pass more pleasantly.
It's better than tearing your hair.
It's better than weeping and wailing and gnashing your teeth.
It's funny—after all—when you think about how stupid it all is—how much we make of it—and how it all comes to absolutely nothing in the end.



Flatbush/Avenue R, Marine Park, Brooklyn

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

=category 9=

=book recently read: Benjamin's Crossing by Jay Parini=

To his wife, he was a bad husband.
To potential comrades, he was a bad Communist.

To his mistresses, he was a bad lover.
To Zionists, like his friend Gershom Scholem, he was a bad Jew.
To his son, he was a bad father.
To his editors, he was a problematic and ungrateful writer.
To fiction readers, he's a bad protagonist. 

He flees the Nazis and ultimately fails to escape, dying, not heroically, 
but with a bad heart, by his own hand.

 Gershom Scholem said, "What evidence would convince anyone that Walter Benjamin might actually perform a useful service? He had no teaching experience and would probably dissolve in front of a class, pooling on the floor before their very eyes. He could surely never be counted on for regular journalistic writing: Even his book reviews were inscrutable, and he did not have the habits of production necessary to keep up with such pressure."

And Gershom Scholem was his best friend!

How then does Walter Benjamin get a novel written about him? Who would care to read about such a man? Why do people—and by "people" I mean here "intellectuals" revere him so? How did he come to have such a large impact on culture, on art, on critical theory, and on literature more than a half-century after his death? How have we all imbibed Benjamin's ideas even if we've never read one word of his inscrutable, largely incomplete, and fragmentary texts?

Here are two theories, the first voiced by Lisa Fittko, one of the real-life characters portrayed in this novel and the second by Walter Benjamin himself in a letter to his sometime friend, sometime nemesis, and sometime editor Theodor Adorno:

"Benjamin was the European Mind writ large. He was everything the Nazi monsters wanted most to obliterate: that aura of tolerance and perspective that comes from having seen many things from many angles. Even that rueful laugh of his was part of the aura. Here before us was the last laughing man. The last man to laugh the laugh of the ages. From now on, history would be tears, and the work of intellectuals would be the work of grieving."

"The great book of the future will consist of fragments torn from the body of other work; it is a reassembly, a patchwork quilt of meanings already accomplished. The great critic of the future will remain silent, gesturing firmly but himself unable, or unwilling, to speak."

Show me the Benjamins!!!

Benjamin was representative of both the past and the future. A lynchpin, a door swinging both ways, which fit his view of history—everything has already happened and it was happening all over again and it was up to us to recognize this fact so as not to be taken by surprise and swept away. He was part of an already passing age when what it meant to be a thinker was To Think without regard to the marketability of one's thoughts, to follow thought wherever thought might lead—thought was not a commercial commodity, it was its own reward. But Benjamin was also a prototype of the future thinker—the man or woman who realized that the "truth" was shattered and scattered, that it could not be recreated seamlessly and in its entirety by any one thinker, but that it must be carefully pieced together from the thoughts of many thinkers. 

"God in the tradition of Kabbalah withdrew from the world. To make room for the expanding universe, He had hidden himself, sending holy light into the world to buoy it up. The world, alas, could not bear so much glory; it shattered, and the cornerstones of the world—in the shape of vessels—shattered, too. Evil now permeated the world, having found a point of entry. The expansion of the universe had given evil the space it required to live and grow, and it was everywhere now, spoiling what was once good. To humankind was left the agonizing yet essential work of restitution, the repair of the world."

Benjamin was the intellectual's intellectual, like some writers are said to be a writer's writer. Meaning: only someone who knew from experience what it was like to devote one's life to the craft  could really understand what he was attempting—how hard it was—how much he was risking—& how much there was still to admire—even in failure. 

I suspect that's one reason it was so difficult to find a copy of this novel.  Even at the Brooklyn Public Library it was buried somewhere "in storage." Who wants to read about Walter Benjamin, anyway? Even if his ideas live on through the work of others, the man himself, as confirmed by this novel, was a real dud. He was petulant, myopic, sloppy, childish, impractical, selfish, smelly (!), stiff, formal, boorish—and, at the end, he kills himself. If you know anything at all about Benjamin, you know this from the start and the novel's depressing and inescapable conclusion bears down on you page by page like the sound of an executioner's inexorable footsteps coming down the hall. Where's the victory? Where's the uplifting message? Parini does his best to squeeze one out of the facts, mainly by reconstructing a Benjamin death-scene that boldly and ludicrously crosses over into preposterous sentimentality. Just the kind of thing that I think Benjamin himself would have disdained. Here the ghosts of Benjamin's past parade before him, granting him a kindly absolution and justification for his truncated life while he lay dying of a self-inflicted morphine overdose. It's an inexcusable violation what Parini did here, a compromise of the truth, and a revocation of all that Benjamin stood for. (Otherwise, this was a really good novel). Better to have left it a mystery behind a door marked Unknown. Each man is entitled to the revelation his own death will bring without the rest of us betraying that revelation by telling a fairytale about it in order that we may sleep better at night. Who knows what Benjamin saw in the last hour of his life? Only Benjamin.  

For me, there was no justification necessary for Benjamin's "failed" life. He lived and died on his own terms, and that's victory enough, even if they were the terms better suited to a life lived a hundred years earlier—or a hundred years later—than the times in which Benjamin actually lived. 

"Thick walls of unintelligibility loom between each of us who would lay claim to some measure of humanity, and we are unable to address one another except in crude signs and abstract gestures, in tongues far too idiosyncratic and private to be understood."

These words are put into the mouth of Benjamin's friend Gershom Scholem on the last page of this book and it seems a fitting epitaph not just to the life of Walter Benjamin but for each and every one of us. So why falsify our language—and ourselves—in an attempt to be better understood when to be understood is futile anyway? When to be understood is to falsify our testimony, to smooth over our particularity in complicity with others who've agreed to do the same? Why seek a common language at all? Why not speak in our own idiosyncratic tongue? It is the tongue we must use if we are to understand ourselves. What's more, it is the only tongue that God—if he exists—will hear. It is the language of prayer.

[[Special thanks to my wonderful husband who surprised me with this book after somehow discovering that I'd been looking for a used copy of it in every used bookstore we haunted for a couple of years now. Speaking of tongues and what they're good for, mine is always ready to be put to prayerful use in gratitude for you, my darling  ;o   xoxo]]

=100 pieces of garbage=

Sunday, January 24, 2016


The shiverers outside the farmer's door
For whose reluctant crumb
We stipulate 'til pitying snows
Persuade our feathers home…

We are the birds that stay.

—Emily Dickinson

Saturday, January 23, 2016

=asemic abstract=

=Fake Girls=

2. Fastballs, fake girls & mornings-after 

Sitting back, savoring a ten dollar beer-and-hot-dog-lunch, I’m watching the game unfold about a mile-and-a-half below me like a god in the cheap seats. It’s a Wednesday afternoon, a two p.m. start, and ex-Yank Clemens is pitching against his old team. I like Clemens the way he is now, way past his prime: a big slab of a guy using brute intimidation even more than skill. One day, still in the far future, we'll learn that he's beefing himself up on steroids. But that won't make any difference to me—we all use a little chemical help to get by one way or another—and it certainly doesn't make any difference this afternoon. Because it isn't the performance I'm admiring, it's his worldview.

He’ll throw the ball at anyone’s head and he lets everyone know it. To him, that’s just a given and he acts as if he genuinely doesn’t understand what the objection to his me-only attitude could possibly be. He knows that during the short time that ball is in his hand, he’s got the advantage. The moment he lets it go, he’s a slave to fate just like anyone else. That one moment with the ball in our hand, it’s all we ever get.

Today, though, Clemens is even more like the rest of us than usual: he doesn’t have a goddamn thing.

It’s like that sometimes. No matter what you throw you up there, someone hits it back at you even harder.

Today the ball is flying all over the place, as if Yankee Stadium were a big old-fashioned pinball machine someone were making sing just this side of “tilt.” The scoreboard is lighting up like a Macy’s Christmas display, a row of crooked numbers dancing like elves in a drunken chorus line. Clemens had given up seven runs and a dozen hits by the fourth inning when he’s finally replaced by some sorry-ass reliever Houston has reserved to absorb the beating for the remainder of just such lost causes. But, to everyone’s surprise, the Astros come back in the top of the eighth with an improbable bombardment of their own and win 12-10.

Too bad.

I took the Yanks and three so I don’t cover and lose three hundred. I take the D-train back to Manhattan trying the whole time to catch the Mets on my Walkman through a blizzard of static because I have two hundred on the Cardinals out at Shea. I’ll lose that one, too, as it turns out. Betting against the home team, it serves me right, I guess, and I steer myself into a basement bar in the East Village and pour a few pints of Guinness on my guilt and so its half-a-grand poorer and almost two a.m. when I finally head out to the Bronx to keep my date with Sooki Soo.

#     #     #

I should admit right off that Sooki Soo is not like most girls, not like any girl at all, really, and yet she’s more girl than most. She’ll tell you so herself straight off, if you give her half the chance, because she’s learned the hard way that most guys don’t like any ambiguity or unnecessary anatomical surprises in this area. She’s just off her shift at the strip club and we’re having dinner at a dingy Chinese eatery under the highway, maybe two days after my already forgotten visit with the fat man. She’s having the mu shu shrimp, only eating the shrimp, which are none too populous in the mu shu here at Emperor Noodles.

Sooki likes when I take her out, even though I only take her out in those rare charmed hours long after it gets dark and long before it gets light. I only take her out when the only people still up are characters just as mismatched as we are, or too messed up to notice. I take her to dives like Emperor Noodles where no one speaks any English and you can get a whole meal with a small dish of pistachio ice cream for $3.95.

Let's cut to the chase. Sooki Soo is six-foot-one in her Rite Aid thigh-high fishnets even without the big white sissy platforms and she must weigh no more than one-fifteen soaking wet. She knows how many calories there are in a teaspoon of mustard. She knows the fat content of a raisin. If you’re thinking, “eating disorder,” then you’re close. If you’re thinking, “distorted body-image,” you’re galloping along on the right track. No one’s image of her body could be more distorted than Sooki Soo’s, and she’s got all the surgical scars to prove it. Most guys, they  don’t take her out at all. Most guys meet her in hotel rooms called “Rooms for Rent” and bring along a couple of 40s and, if they're romantic, packaged sandwiches.

I’m always telling Sooki I’m sorry I can’t take her out to regular places. She says, “I’m sorry I can’t be more of a regular woman.”

This is as close to true love as I’ve ever gotten: two people apologizing to each other for not being what the other wanted.

Sooki holds up and inspects a peanut-sized shrimp between her elegantly wielded chopsticks to make sure it’s not, in fact, a peanut, or, something even less desirable, an aborted mouse fetus, for instance. She shows me what she’s got trapped between the tips of her chopsticks.

She says, “Does this look like a shrimp to you?”

I squint at whatever she’s holding up, but before I can answer, she shrugs her shoulders, drowns whatever it is in  sweet and sour sauce, and nibbles it delicately with her capped white teeth. Her dress is royal blue, one of those things that’s off-the-shoulder, her big white sissy platforms must be four inches high, and her long press-on fingernails could make a visit to the toilet a life-threatening experience. She’s wearing a blue silk scarf around her neck and she has big movie-star wax lips and her make-up is cracking a bit in all the places you’d expect it to crack if you’ve been pretending to smile at a bunch of groping perverts all night.

Sooki has an apartment she shares near a defunct tin can factory with a friend and that’s where we go after dinner. She checks her messages and they are mostly from married guys calling from cell phones. They all sound irritated and crabby, like guys with untended hard-ons tend to sound, irrationally expecting someone to be perpetually waiting on the other end of the line to help them with their situation, like mommy with a warm bottle, I suppose. 

I make myself at home on a couch that looks like the ghost of a couch because there is a white sheet covering it for some reason I probably don’t want to know. I lean forward over a coffee-table covered with fashion and celebrity gossip tabloids. I pick up a copy of some cheesy rag with an article claiming that Jennifer Lopez has been dead for twelve years and a look-a-like has been performing for her ever since. That, I consider, would explain a lot. There is a story that Bigfoot is considering a run for Senate with the Democratic Party in New Hampshire. That Oprah Winfrey is pregnant with an alien spawn that will populate Antartica in preparation for the Antichrist.

Sooki is still listening to her messages, an entire nursery of whining, petulant creeps. She looks at me, shrugs apologetically, and mouths, I’m sorry, as if she’s forgotten that callers can’t hear you on a message machine.

There are fabrics hanging from the walls that Sooki has hung to give the place atmosphere but mostly to hide the rotten spots where the wall has crumbled away like moldy cheese. There is a poster from years back of Cyndi Lauper in her “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” incarnation. Right now I’m thinking two things:

1.) It’s so sad to be a human being.
2.) How do we endure how sad it is to be a human being?

Sooki has finally gotten sick of listening to all that pent-up testosterone-driven petulance. Or, maybe, the machine simply ran out of space for all the neglected hard-ons in the world. She’s mincing around the apartment, lighting candles and incense, and it’s not easy to mince around on four-inch white plastic sissy heels. It takes lots and lots of practice; it takes Olympic-sized dedication and devotion. It takes real athleticism. You’d be surprised, not that I'd know from personal experience, mind you. I've just borne witness to a lot in my sojourn in the land. Sooki asks me what I’m thinking about.

I say, “I’m thinking we really have to get out of that mess in the Middle East.”

She pouts.

So I say, “Okay, okay. I’m thinking that you look very pretty tonight.”

My heart, to use a well-worn euphemism for that flabby hunk of meat shuddering in my chest, is breaking when I say this.

Sooki smiles. She is putting the day-old flowers that I bought her earlier that evening from a subway station newsstand in a plastic liter bottle of Pepsi One that she pulls out of the recycle pail. She fills the plastic bottle from the farting kitchen faucet and sits it at the center of the card table that stands between the kitchen and what passes for the dining area. Carnations, they probably are, or were, or that’s what they’re supposed to be. They are dyed all kinds of unearthly colors that are supposed to look better than the color carnations really are. I think the whole bouquet may actually have been dead for days.

“They’re so pretty,” Sooki says, and the sad thing, of course, is that I know she really means this. “They’re so lov-er-ly,” she coos, and drops a little pill into the cloudy water so that they’ll last a little longer. She says, “I don’t have an aspirin, so I’m using a Premamin.”

I smile when she says this. I’m thinking, well, maybe they’ll grow a nice set of knockers. At least, I hope I’m smiling when she says this, because if I’m not smiling I don’t think I want to know what expression could be on my face instead.

“I’ll be right back,” Sooki says, and smiles right back.

At least, I hope that she’s smiling, because if she’s not smiling, I don’t think I want to know what else that expression on her face could mean.

She minces off into the bathroom and flushes the toilet three times and curses and spits and something rattles around in the sink. I hear the shower go on, it sputters and spurts like a man with a bad prostate, squirting out a painful piss. I hear some gargling and hacking. I hear a staccato burst of sharp farts. A groan. I hear the angry buzz of an electric razor. These are the things you try not to hear. These are the things that you know go on behind the scenes all the time that you try not to know. And you succeed, most of the time, so long as the walls aren't too thin. These are the things people have to do to put themselves together, to reassemble the jigsaw, to put a face on to meet the faces that they meet, as the poet once said. I pick up another tabloid and read the true-life confession of a desperate lover who sewed his dead beloved’s head onto the body of a dolphin. You can’t make these stories up. That’s what they tell us, anyway.

“Miss me?” Sooki asks when she saunters back.

She’s wearing a red silk kimono with some kind of poorly-sewn black embroidery of orchids, or maybe they’re dragons, it’s impossible to tell for sure, it’s all unraveling. It’s slit way up one leg, all the way to the hip, so you can see to the tops of Sooki’s stay-up fishnets. It’s supposed to be sexy, but it makes me feel like sobbing. Fact is, I did miss her. She must have been gone for about half an hour. I was starting to wonder what the hell had happened to her.

“Where’s Treena T?” I ask. 

I’m looking apprehensively at the door, wondering if we’re going to be alone tonight, or if Treena T will catch us in the midst of something particularly sordid, if not downright illegal in this and many other states. Treena T is a bodybuilder and professional trainer when she’s not acting in porn flicks with titles like Love Muscle Babes. She is terribly sweet, a real pussycat, but a little eerie, as any six-foot-five, two-hundred-twenty-five-pound muscle-bound guy with glued-on falsies, a black pixie wig, and a penchant for stiletto heels and knock-off Vera Wang gowns is bound to be. Believe it or not, there are two Treenas that could conceivably be coitus interrupting us here tonight, but Treena T is Sooki’s sometime roommate, the other one, Treena F. is in L.A., but how I know that I have no idea.

Sooki frowns. “She’s in Jersey. Getting her cheeks done by some doc she met on the internet. But I haven’t heard from her in, oh, like, days…”

“She’s getting her cheeks done again?”


Then something occurs to me. “Butt or face?”

“Face. She’s getting what they did the last time fixed.”

Jesus, I hope so, I’m thinking. I remember the last time I saw her, the resemblance her face had taken to that infamous photo of Jersey Joe Walcott's at the moment of impact with Rocky Marciano's right fist was alarming and I’ve heard the resemblance did not significantly go away when the swelling went down. These back-alley plastic surgeons were creating a race of cut-rate mutants in the underground sex industry. It was beginning to look like an X-rated version of The Island of Dr. Moreau out there. Anyway, all this sounds vaguely familiar to me, what Sooki Soo just said, but then again, most things sound vaguely familiar to me lately. That’s what happens when you’ve already heard it all.

“I’m sorry,” I say, “did you already tell me that at dinner?”

“I don’t know,” Sooki says, looking confused herself, and she gets up to retrieve two bottles of beer out of the fridge, and turns off the kitchenette light, although not necessarily in that order. 

She crosses the room in her big plastic sissy heels, lots of leg flashing along that slit in the kimono, and it’s significant that neither of us turns on any of the other lights by way of compensation. She hands me the bottles, pretending she can’t twist the tops, and I open them. We sit on the couch for a while, drinking, not saying anything.

“I’ll do that” Sooki says, because I’m bending sideways to take off my shoes, and she hands me her beer bottle with the lipstick smeared halfway down the neck as if she’s been warming up for what comes next. 

She slides silkily off the couch onto her knees. I drink out of her bottle because mine is already empty and I taste her fruit-flavored lipstick and it feels as if she’s trying to undo my shoelaces, which would be a complete waste of time, because the shoes I’m wearing don’t have laces. I take another long sip of the cold beer; Sooki, pretend little geisha girl that she is, always buys Sapporo, and by now she’s slipping off my socks, and I’m vaguely worried about foot odor.

I take another pull of beer to distract myself.

Sooki’s worked my pants down and she’s licking me, making hmm-hmmming noises, and although I know her enthusiasm isn’t entirely authentic, because nothing is, I also know that it’s not totally fake either, and that’s something. I have my hands in her hair, but I’m not pulling too hard or messing around in there too much because I have no idea how much of her hair is real anymore and how much of it is extensions, and I don’t want this to be another of those embarrassing moments we have to act like didn’t happen.

Too much of all this is like that already.

“Hmmm-hmmmm,” Sooki goes, and I’m amazed, as always, at how this all works, even though we might as well be reading from a script. It’s all a little like your favorite dirty scene in a film you’ve watched fifty times before, and yet, somehow, it still works the fifty-first time, even though you know exactly what’s coming and when, maybe because you know exactly what’s coming and when. 

We end up in the bedroom after a while, which is to say, the corner of the one-room flat where the used futon is thrown on the floor beneath the satin comforter. There’s some shouting coming up from the street, some garbage can racket, some bottles breaking, threats, curses, pleading, gasps of pain. As you might imagine, this isn’t exactly a high-rent district Sooki Soo is living in, but the ugly-sounding commotion just seems to make being inside that much cozier. It makes you thankful to realize it’d probably take one hell of a supernaturally fortuitous ricochet from a stray bullet to get yourself capped up here, a one in a million shot. That kind of luck, good or bad, is really rare. You gotta figure if you're that unlucky, it's not bad luck. God Himself must want you dead.

I’m lying back on the futon mattress now and Sooki is on top of me, running her hands with the long painted nails over my chest, my stomach, and this is the time she’d be taking her clothes off, or I would be taking them off her, if she were any other girl. But aside from the red satin kimono with the wild orchids, or whatever, she still has on all the rest of it: the fake fur-trimmed bra, the leopard-print micro-mesh panties, the fishnet stockings, the big plastic sissy heels. Sooki is a bit like little Miss Invisible: she is the kind of girl that starts to disappear the more she takes off. 

Strange thing is, this is more true of most girls than you might realize. It’s just a little truer of Sooki.

Sex seems like such a mystery when you consider what we’re often driven to do just to make that connection, any connection. It seems inexplicable and I don’t just mean what’s going on now between Sooki and I, because what’s going on now really isn’t that much stranger than anything else, if you take the big perspective, if you look at it from the long range, I'm talking really long range, like an alien watching from Alpha Centauri. People will gladly acknowledge that we come into this world alone and leave it alone, but they generally never consider that we pass through it alone, too. That’s what sex is really all about: a way to fool ourselves into believing that we aren’t utterly and eternally alone. After all, anything that causes us as many problems as sex can’t possibly be our fault alone, could it? There's got to be someone else involved—if only to have someone else to blame.

Sooki makes things easy, but, of course, it still isn’t easy, it never is. There are all kinds of places to touch and not to touch, things to say and not to say, parts to see and not to see, to keep the illusion real. And so that’s where we’re at, as I’m touching her breasts, or where her breasts are beginning to be, or going to be, after a few more treatments. She’s still got her panties on, the bra, the sissy heels, everything, and she’s on her back now and moaning and squirming around because it’s my turn to make her feel good, and I can’t tell if it’s really anything I’m doing or if she’s just enjoying some movie version of herself that she runs in her head. Sooki’s got this part of being a woman down pat. The fact that I’ll be here with her while she watches this private movie, that alone seems to make her feel good, that alone seems to be enough. I’m there to bear witness to her fiercely imagined femininity. Sex, like any other social interaction, is mostly a performance.

“One day,” she’s always saying, “I’ll have a pair of real breasts,” but that’s not true. “One day,” she’s always saying, “I’ll have a real vagina,” but that’s not true either.

These are the kinds of little lies we tell ourselves all the time to make ourselves feel better. These are the kinds of lies we pretend to believe to make each other feel better. I have my hand on her silicone-filled bra, though, as if all this were true; I’ve slipped my hand inside her micro-mesh panties as if what she believes will one day happen already has.

Fact is, she seems even smaller and softer than she usually does and I’m reminded, yet again, of the cost of what she’s doing to herself chemically, of the impotence, the inability to experience real sexual pleasure, not to mention the risk of permanent damage to her internal organs because none of what she’s doing is being properly administered let alone monitored by an endocrinologist, and I’m amazed as she comes, or pretends to come, bucking like the girl she wants to be against my hand with all these pretty little gasps and soft moans, of just how convincing she can be, if you don’t think about any of it all too much, and it’s not the first time or the last time that I’m making a real effort not to think about too much of anything at all.

#     #     #

You’re not spending the night with a girl like Sooki Soo, that much you know going in. You’re not spending the night if you have to brave a thermonuclear holocaust to get out of there before morning comes. It’s kind of like being with a werewolf in reverse, except instead of the moon, it’s all going to hell when the sun comes up, and I’m not only talking about the need for a morning shave. You have to face up to a lot of harsh realities the morning after with a girl like Sooki Soo and those harsh realities are to be avoided at all costs.

So after we’re done, I stumble around, pulling on my clothes, and Sooki Soo gathers the sheets around herself, knowing that I prefer she not walk me out, or kiss me at the door, or, for that matter, say much of anything at all.  On the way to the door, I leave three twenties on the table near the dead carnations standing in the plastic Pepsi One bottle but neither one of us say anything about it because that’s not what this is supposed to be about anyway. At least, we’re both pretending that’s not what this is about. Before you know it, I’m out of the housing complex and walking up a block of steaming manhole covers on a street that’s looking less and less dangerous by the second in the grainy morning light and instead just more and more sad and generically miserable than ever before.

Coming soon: 
Chapter 3: Porn, aliases, and guilty consciences...

Friday, January 22, 2016



Gerritsen Avenue, Gravesend, Brooklyn

=book recently read: I Love Dick by Chris Kraus=

Okay, the title is a provocation, & an adolescent provocation at that, forcing women, when referring to this feminist novel, to say it: "I Love Dick." But deliberately undermining the sense of all propriety is a great deal of what this book is all about. For Kraus, what has prevented women all along from becoming equal on the cultural plane with men is the fact that their discourse has been labeled "merely" personal, that it has lacked "propriety." Kraus argues that the curative is not for women to submit to this critique, to go beyond the personal to the universal, but to defiantly make the personal universal. It's a notion that seemed self-evident to me upon the advent of the widespread use of the internet, when people, me included, were freed of the confines of a single identity, when, suddenly, they were free to become "invisible," to manifest themselves in all their multiplicity and to do so under the aegis of anonymity. "The only thing left to say about human beings," I wrote to anyone who I thought might be interested at the time, "is what it's actually like to be one."

That's what "I Love Dick" is about. What it's like to be a human being, in particular, a forty-year-old woman at a crossroads in her life. 

Of course since those heady early days of the internet, reactionary forces such as Farcebook have attempted to herd the cats back into the corral in the service first of capitalism, and then, ultimately, of State control. Because there is nothing that a State or a corporate entity finds more valuable—and essential—than a known commodity, a citizen, a customer. They want to fix you in place: one name, one age, one gender, one number, one nation under the sign of the $. The trade-off is supposed to be a corporate world that mirrors your personal needs and delivers them to your door within two days—the heavenly dream of instant gratification, lost at mommy's tit, and for some of us, never enjoyed even then, but  now miraculously restored to us in our adulthood, at a price, of course—and sadly we're not talking just dollars; the steeper price is stratification, petrification, and suffocation. The promise is that they can supply you with commodities that you desire and suggest others that you don't even know yet that you desire.  Your needs will be met so long as you don't wish to be without needs. Let us show you how comfortable we can make you in chains. Agree to fix yourself in place and time, to enslave yourself to a single identity and the trade-off is that someone can one day spot you online and write you along the lines of "hey, don't I know you from high school?" The idea is that you make yourself available to grace, to the glowing sacrament of reconnection. But my answer to this intrusion from the grave would be "no, of course you don't know me from high school. God forbid. I am not that person & probably I never was.  That person, in any event, is dead. And if you, too, haven't died and been reborn at least a thousand times since high school, christ, I pity you. Even worse, I fear you. What a zombie you must be!" Fact is, if I haven't spoken to you in a week, chances are we're practically strangers by now. I'm hardly the same person today as I was yesterday; and I might have changed three times over since breakfast. At best, at my most stable, at any given moment, I'm a roll of the die. I might be one of six. And if that isn't how you're living, I hardly consider you living at all. The much-vaunted profiles used by companies to sell me shit based on information harvested from my online activities, the supposed facts of my age, race, sex, etc., are laughably inaccurate in my case and intentionally I've done my best to make them so and my success at doing so has given me hope …hope that so long as we keep our identities muddled and nomadic, so long as they remain largely obscured, fluid, contradictory, a secret even to ourselves, we continue to be free no matter how much surveillance we're under.  Just what part of me that no longer exists are all those ads I get for Viagra and Cialis supposed to stiffen, anyway, Mr. Spammer? Just what wet pussy do you think this pussy is interested in boning, Mr. Phisher? You couldn't have cast your line into the most mistaken pond. THIS PUSSY LOVES DICK!

Is this a book review or a personal polemic? It's both—and neither. And that's what I love about "I Love Dick." It's not a novel any more than it's an autobiography, than it is a diary/journal, than it is a collection of love letters to "Dick," than it is literary theory or essays of art critique, than it is a feminist or literary manifesto. "I Love Dick" is all of these things—and more. It has to be. Because it's attempting to say something that hasn't been said before, something more than any one of the aforementioned genres can contain on its own, or even all together; what Kraus is trying to say can't be said in any pre-existing form. Neither can what I'm trying to say here—and elsewhere. What is "trying-to-be-said" must create the means of its own expression just as much as we must create our own identity, one that cannot be reduced to the information on an application—or app.

Kraus sets out her project clearly in "I Love Dick." She will pursue an infatuation with the cultural critic Dick Hebdige whether he wants her attentions or not. And he doesn't. Oh no, he doesn't. He thinks she's unbalanced. She writes him love letters, enlists her husband, Sylvere Lotringer to write letters, too, and sets up a menage a trios that is part art-project, part genuine attraction, part lark, and part creepy obsession. She is basically stalking Dick. She is giving herself permission to lose control. To act like a "dick."

Why is she doing this? Well that is part of what makes this book so fascinating. But the most interesting answer, to me, is that Kraus is exposing what up to now has been kept carefully hidden in "serious" literature. She is writing the negative (or feminine) side of the male literary experience, what no serious male writer would dare to write. She is purposely abasing and debasing herself. She is deconstructing herself. In other words, she's writing the only thing that's still left to write after all this time: WHAT IT'S ACTUALLY LIKE TO BE A HUMAN BEING!

Of course, there is no need that this project be confined to women. Over the years, I've sat at the computer texting and chatting in virtual rooms with enough men, gained their trust to the extent that they admitted to me desires and fantasies they'd never tell anyone, met me in rooms where they did what they'd rather die than let anyone know they did—secrets that belied who they were in the "world" as "men." On occasion it would occur to me that afterwards they would be driven to harm, even kill me, out of their own self-loathing now objectified outside themselves. Or out of fear that their secret, now given exterior body in a witness, might be revealed. In truth, there was nothing particularly uncommon about the revelations they shared with me. Men have kept their "less-than-manly" secrets for thousands of years. But as Kraus declares ecstatically at one point in "I Love Dick," reflecting on the philosophy of  Gilles Deleuze, "the greatest secret in the world is, There Is No Secret."

The only thing no one dares is to say the secret out loud.

And that is where Kraus sees her entrĂ©e and her relevance as a writer. To say the secret out loud. "Our story," she says, "is performative philosophy."

Kraus links feminine sensibility to schizophrenia as both seek to mediate, mitigate, and anticipate the needs of others. For the schizophrenic as for the woman as for any underclass person, survival depends on being ultra-sensitive to the emotional plague exuded by the dominant class. And just like a schizophrenic, the only way for a woman to reclaim herself is to shut out the unspoken but all-too-loud demands of the voices only she hears. She must isolate herself from the surrounding dominant culture to be herself. 

Kraus and those who would follow her lead are telling a different story. They are literary terrorists and just like political terrorists they cannot be pinned down to a genre, to a tradition, to a canon, to commercial interests, to State Control. There is nothing the State fears more than those who remain State-less, tribal, nomadic. It is the one great vulnerability of the State to be unable to combat such rootless unpredictable variables. It is why the there is such a frantic effort in the Middle East today to build nations in the desert…nations that the United States—as representative now of *all* global states…can dominate. 

Terrorists—literary cultural, sexual, and political—move in the interstices. They reject codification and commodification. They reject the corral no matter how cozy. They are the cats that cannot be herded, that resist the catnip of patriotism, nationalism, commercialism, and social media. They are the one final hope of freedom left in the world. They are the last survivors of an otherwise thoroughly domesticated and exploitable species. 

Women can be at the vanguard of this new turn in literature and philosophy. Because they have nothing worth losing and nothing worth gaining playing by the rules of a culture, rules both written and unwritten, that denies them an equal place even if they do play along. Men, even those as intellectually liberated and libertine as her avant garde husband Sylvere, and the rockstar of cultural criticism Dick Hebdige, don't dare subvert the ultimate rules and codes of control imposing a certain propriety, a certain objectivity, a certain dignity and taste on those who wish to be taken seriously. They have too much to lose. Or, at least, they think they do. They belong to a dying breed and even if they know it, they can't extract themselves from the tarpit. Even knowing they are about to become extinct.

Kraus will transgress every rule, every expectation, every boundary of good taste.

She is the next thing. 

She is the future.

But so is everyone who follows her example. Feminists are just the first wave. Behind them is a great undertow of heretofore outlaw bodies and excluded identities—male, female, queer, transgender, third-gender, polygender. 


Let's get started.