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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. 

Presumably.

 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.

So…
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.

Hahaha….

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