Assays Arrayed Beginnings Abortions.
No William Shakespeare, Sigmund Freud, Harold “King Leopold” Bloom, or real-life Joseph Prince McElroy, I have no earthly idea what cognitive dissonance might mean. Self-styled
addicted insatiable lurker, prideful shunner of all putative knowledge promulgated by Psychology, I have come to know other things. So I megaphone here that over the past quarter-C I have compended an outrageously comprehensive comprehension of socio-aesthetic dissonance. I have learned how it operates, black-hole style. I recognize its desiccated anti-breaths, their purgatory contours: invisible, interstitial, alt-reality-inimical. As the author (read creator) of the meganovel Women and Men, the single greatest one-human chunk of art I know, the one portable object I’d ferret off to my tiny private tundra peninsula when the A-bombs begin blooming or when Silicon Valley’s viral Gray Goo starts smugly smelting whatever’s left, McElroy deserves far better than the respectable anonymous literary niche he inhabits. Cultural critics point up hypocrisies; daily headlines’ structural unmappings furnish us with gaps. I know I must stand far taller than my seventy-five inches inside this one particular gap even though I cannot. Out of Sheer Rage is a title already claimed and only partially whole but screw it. At least I can intuit we’d be wise to wind up with the final paragraph of Harry Mathews’s “We for One: An Introduction to Joseph McElroy’s Women and Men,” that heartfelt valediction harboring that hard-earned earnest ether-real coda in which canny sane humane HM amicably gives in or gratefully gives up while urgently acknowledging that here, more than anywhere else, writing is no substitute for reading – read experiencing, read breathing, read loving. What follows are abortions. Translucent, blue-hued. Never clear-eyed. Failures to begin anew. After the bomb, après le goo. What’s left
to suppose it’s bass-ically a Good Evening, Ladies and Gentlemen. Nice. But just what do you suppose compels a person to put pen to paper?
My immediate conjuring: usually Gass’s prologue to Gaddis. imho the most piquant portrait ever penned of how one man had to give voice to something urgent within him, welling up, how it would be irresponsible — to himself, not least — not to try, at least.
Then I usually recall how this whole improbable spielball began. We’d just lost DFW. Six days later, Kagel. “RIP” on all my screens. For days all I did was commune: with the first few pages of Paterson; with Muhal’s solo track on Sweet Earth Flying, time stopping for five minutes at a time, every time, tears welling up, pooling unbidden.
It’s difficult to imagine, now, what could possibly have been more disheartening — to me personally, I mean.1 Naturally the world thrummed on immutable. But one more shitpiddled twist allowed that initial sting to linger. Yes, one more effin epiphenonemon festered and only affirmed, viscerally, that I’d been failing, pitifully, to become the kind of hermit that I’d thought I wanted to be. It was this: no one I knew had even heard of my late lamented heroes. “Someone died?” Can we assume, just for chortles, that confronting the odd forlorn visage would have done me shloads of good, emotionally?
But no — even the proper channels failed me, silently. Of course I’d tuned to WKCR immediately. What would they broadcast as instant elegy? Surely (at least!) Acustica and/or Der Schall, each one a certified PINNACLE of “semi-improvised alienated calm”? 2
Or, since this was savvy KCR, perhaps even the double-LP Staatstheater, practically a samizdat since its 1971 pressing, and thirty-seven years later still invisible to bloggers?? 3
Fate ordained that for that whole first week after it’d hit, Mauricio K’s passing passed unmemorialized by that august organ of King’s College.4
So what filled the Afternoon New Music slots? Something like… three hours on Propellers in Love (Monday); Schaap doggedly expostulating on Trane’s birthday (Tuesday); and then on Wednesday something else, “new music,” vanilla trite: ecstatic jazz or gabby EFI or zornish New Downtown.5
I screamed Shut-up and hugged my iPod. & then I guess it was within a fortnight that the bewilderment and the frustration and the urgency all just mushroomed, until — “New Yorker’s Ross a genius,” by decree.6
What is it that impels women and men to write?
Immediacy? If another breathing soul were actually to ask me, I’d immediately assess our immediate socio-temporal environs. Oh woman-and-man. Is this really happening—I thought you only existed on the web? How much time do we have??
So, next best thing: I’d offer rough guide-contours to her/his foraging.
Socio-aesthetic dissonance? The book’s aesthetic footprint, yet to be measured, portends infinity. Its socio footprint, on the other hand… that’s still, apparently, amazingly, quite finite.
So pin down grails. Ferret out snippets. You know how it works. Trawl in situ reports. What they might still call bloggers. Breathers who once risked touching transient tangents of stalkers’ lives within a comments section. The dawning awe and wonder of Tom LeClair and Garth Risk Hallberg; the ground-zero extolliation of Gaddis scholar Steven Moore (“I was filled with awe and wonder as the immense, epic design of the novel continued to mushroom ever higher… Women and Men is baffling much of the time, but I couldn’t help feeling while reading the first Breather section that this is what fiction in the twenty-first century might look like”). Just scuba this art’s penumbra through your own Joseph Cornell dive-box. Passionate or off-hand, any mappable scrap humbly helps.
Yes, lurk on Goodreads. Definitely lurk on Goodreads.
And by all means, unknown breather with a body and a past whose impending experiential oneness I can only blood-nurture encourage and good-nature envy, the immediate object is to place into your own two living hands pulsating chunks of Kathryn Kramer’s essay.
…what most distinguishes Joseph McElroy’s fiction from that of his contemporaries… he would like to cure us.… Through what can best be described as an atmosphere of open space in the prose, a kind of outward-moving energy… expressed both by McElroy’s style and his questing narrators and characters…. It is in the anti-claustrophobic, anti-paranoiac nature of his prose that McElroy most differs from his contemporaries, particularly those giant-book writers (notably Pynchon and Gaddis) with whom, especially after the publication of Women and Men, he most invites comparison…
…their prose is clearly not meant to be, as McElroy’s is, a made-in-the-laboratory neurotransmitter intended to look into receptor sites heretofore unused in our minds and rearrange the way our synapses fire…. As you wend your way through some of McElroy’s sentences, you find, not so much yourself, as yourself in the process—yourself not lost through diffusion but enlarged through connection…
…what McElroy might want to cure—it’s nothing new; it’s that familiar condition of feeling too lost in the knowledge of too much being wrong to be able to do anything about it…
…from the level of the sentence structure on up, not only seems imbued with the belief in the possibility of survival but aspires to be part of the solution…
— Kathryn Kramer, “Dr. McElroy, Homeopath: What One Goes to Him For,” original italics
solution? The List — the language lurkers loathe least.7
HEY, “LURKING” — JUSTIFY YOUR EXISTENCE
1. There’s no better investment than a recording. A dozen dollars (a few dozen more for the bigger boxsets) yields a lifetime of pleasure.8
2. There’s no better investment than a recording — redux. Records last forever. They depreciate only if you let them. The “thing” that they preserve is Constant.9
3. To reap the fruits of your investment, you don’t need anyone else to be there with you. It’s this very portability, scaled ideally to the Individual & his lonely holy wanderings, that makes records such a natural fit for DID lists.10
Halfway done. Already got this: Sound recordings can offer at negligible cost pleasures that are both solitary and eternal.11 The greatest records (i.e. the ones that mean the most to any given listener) fit those criteria to an extreme.12 So why wouldn’t anyone devote thousands of hours to finding them? Who wouldn’t trudge through labyrinths of Mucks-n-Shite if the prize is Lux-en-Perpetuite?
“Like settlers newly landed on the moon station,” Harry Mathews spinnets in his angel-berserker’s guide, “we readers of Women and Men experience in the book ‘an unsettled sense of lasting content’ (the accent of the last word falling most definitely on the second syllable).”
Because never relaxed mentally. Syntactic synapses at play: perpetuity’s evervescence.
HM: “Since the novel could have gone on, we ask, why didn’t it? Or is that supposed to be up to us?”
orbiting within some sublunar SPECTRUM.
At one end: Nothing’s more boring than a record made by a bunch of dudes in their twenties/thirties, who’ve heard (of) far less music than I have, who holed up in some studio to tweak the typical arsenal of instruments to record another batch of ten songs — cuz it’s been a while since their last album came out. “Oh man, have you heard their latest?”13 No — and with luck I never will. “But… you don’t think they’re talented??” Screw talent. Everyone’s got talent. Life’s too short for talent. I only want Genius.14
At the other end: Nothing’s more compelling than a record with an awfully compelling Reason to Exist.15
“Hold on, hold on. Those footnoted few seem like pretty exceptional circumstances.” Yo. “Okay — but how many records like that can there be?? That kind of stuff has to be few and far between, right? This cannot be a practical way to guide anyone’s record-consuming.”
Exactly. Yes. Of course.
But. Try, somehow, to imagine all the occasions that have ever been recorded. Any sound/noise/music ever caught on tape between 1876 and now. That impossible platonic ideal of All The Recordings that encumber our Orb.
Now. What portion of that (not quite) infinite global corpus would qualify here — by our *crazy-ass subjective* criteria — as Unique? What percentage would have had awfully compelling Reasons to Exist?
IT MUST BE that those recordings are indeed out there — somewhere. Enough Genius, Serendipity, and Extremely Hard Work have transpired since 1876 to ensure the existence of some >>non-negligible recorded body of Unique Listening Experiences.<< They’re rare, yes — but they most assuredly exist.
And now we have this thingness called the Web, >>an orb-sharding vacuum that every so often sucks in a weirdworm who culls the hell out of dormant sonic archives and who then, every so often, pops up to share with Terra “this truly extraordinary recording” whose extraordinary story and extraordinary soundworld positively demand public exposure<< — THAT whole process, multiplied every few years by a few dozen++…
So, given all that, wouldn’t it be — idk — worthwhile to cull, to exploit, the work done by all those weirdworms? To seek out all the unique listening experiences we possibly can?? To fill our libraries with so many of them that we’ll never again have to endure >>“now that he’s tackled Haydn again, here comes so-and-so’s latest Schubert cycle”<<???
I mean — “that stuff’s the exception,” you say? Seriously?? SWEET SIMIAN CHRISTMAS, WHAT DO YOU THINK THE WEB IS FOR???
So get back to
the artifact itself. If this were the only book left, could we begin anew?
The artifact itself. So many reasons to exist.
For us, too?
1. Run-of-the-mill critical dismissals. We need to read past them. We will – because I’ve arrayed them to come first.
Cardinal Exhibit. The book has not been kept in print. Not even Dalkey Archive, the redoubtable avant bastion that vows to stock every title in its catalogue, including reissues like W & M (orig.: Knopf, 1987), could manage that stupendous feat. Could anyone short of Shakespeare dream a sane humane cosmos in which
any Toni Braxton record Anthony Braxton’s sine-curve W-whopper, Willisau (Quartet) 1991 – State 45 – lapsed “out of print”? Oh wait.
The Modern Library Editors’ List of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century, published in 1998, had never heard of Joseph McElroy. Likewise for Radcliffe’s rival 100 list. Ditto for worldly Le Monde’s 100 Books of the Century. (Not all was lost; La vie mode d’emploi charted at No. 43.) Oh, here we go. In 2006 the New York Times Book Review editor “sent out a short letter to a couple of hundred prominent writers, critics, editors and other literary sages, asking them to please identify ‘the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years’.” Targeted! Specific! Boom boom, base! And…? Beloved, Underworld, Blood Meridian, American Pastoral, and the Rabbits. Plus a bunch of estimable “others receiving votes.” Sincere, I suppose. Who’s McElroy?
hear, hear! Like what could even be the equivalent?? Like say you polled opera cognoscenti in 1900. Top works of the last 100 years, ladies and gents. Yo! And they sine-wave back Otello and Falstaff, Boris Godunov and Les Troyens.16 Dramatic list! Parse it und fall! Ring around Isolde-sie!
But, ummmmmm, notice any master singers missing from that cobbling?
Critics? Decline. There’s Lawrence Buell’s teal doorstopper, The Dream of the Great American Novel (Harvard, 2011). The greatest American novel this side of, idk, Moby-freaking-DICK is gonna star in those bucking pages, right? After all, according to an expert on the backflap, Buell “has read and mastered every novel you can think of and many you have never heard of.” Zoom its index. “McElrath, Joseph, Jr.,” followed by “McEwan, Ian.” Then there’s Michael Schmidt’s The Novel: A Biography (Belknap, 2014). 1,200 nourishing leaves; incite-ful, even – dare I say – idiosyncratic. And yet… lush loamy index entry for “McCullers, Carson,” followed by another for “McEwan, Ian.”
These omissions are inexplicable. But at least they don’t hurt. (McElroy interviewing Mathews for the Village Voice in 2002, a peace piece of unwanted brevity and breeze… Title: “Should Writing Hurt?”)
Here’s what really hurts: spatiotemporal spillovers from the back cover of Guy Davenport’s The Geography of the Imagination (David R. Godine, 1997 [various, 1954-81]), an attractive volume by an author utterly unknown to me which I picked up on a whim at Blue Whale Books in Charlottesville, Virginia, ca. 2005, Mercator’s Novus Atlas furling the front cover, promisingly erudite blurbs on that back, hmmm, only $9.95… → why not irrevocably RUNDFUNK your most basic intellectual horizons, right? One of those blurbs: Michael Dirda’s. Davenport’s method, explained the perspicacious Mr. Dirda, is “nothing other than the deep attentiveness engendered by love; that and a firm faith in simply knowing things. He conveys, to adopt his own words about painter Paul Cadmus, ‘a perfect balance of spirit and information’.” (Dirda’s own Bound to Please is terrific, btw – materia foragus for GD- and JPM-penumbra freaks, we who mulch whatever we can.) So what’s this? What’s this years-later nugget Googled up? What scuba-mist might bind the greatest of American novels to the orbit of one of our sharpest critics?
Not surprisingly, the least successful subgenre of fiction since 1972 has also been its most ambitious: the mega-novel. Joseph McElroy’s Women and Men, Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings and Harlot’s Ghost, Harold Brodkey’s long-anticipated, intermittently readable The Runaway Soul – all were seriously disappointing: logorrhea in excelsis. John Barth’s epistolary LETTERS, the sprawling fiction of William Vollmann, Richard Powers’s The Gold Bug Variations, and David Foster Wallace’s recent Infinite Jest were admired with reservations, as were two of my favorites: Sorrentino’s Mulligan Stew and Gass’s The Tunnel. Perhaps only William Gaddis (A Frolic of His Own), Thomas Pynchon (Mason & Dixon) and one or two others [who? Theroux? Mano? Forrest? Young? Silko? Dixon? Place? Dara? De La Pava? Cohen? Yamashita? Yunqué? Gauer? Auster? Kramer? Sincerely: name them.] have managed to create wholly successful mega-novels. And even they have their detractors. In a real sense, though, these grand undertakings are the books that matter most. As [Harry Mathews confrère] Italo Calvino once wrote, “Overambitious projects may be objectionable in many fields, but not in literature. Literature remains alive only if we set ourselves immeasurable goals, far beyond all hope of achievement.”
— Michael Dirda, “Stylists and Visionaries: 25 Years of American Fiction”
Seriously disappointing things… Are we indeed far beyond all hope?
Naaahhhhwww. Here’s what’ll save us. What’ll set us lurkers straight. No logorrhea. Just a list. Just the most bad-ass’t list amongst all these hector’d vectors: Larry McCaffery’s from 1999. Its irreverent title alerts us to the requisite idiosyncrasy: “20th Century’s Greatest Hits: 100 English-Language Books of Fiction.” Kuh-boom. From No. 1, Pale Fire (“The most audaciously conceived novel of the century – and the most perfectly executed – this is also the book whose existence could have been the most difficult to anticipate in the year 1900”), to No. 100, Hogg (“The most shocking novel published in the 20th century”). Buh-base. Where’s Infinite Jest? No. 71. (“This unwieldy but very highly engaging novel ambitiously explores themes encompassing politics, philosophy, gender roles, and personal identity. These themes are presented through a range of unusual and poetic voices and narrative structures designed to model the difficulties involved in distinguishing pop-cultural appearance from reality or establishing meaningful connections between media-generated images and their referents.”) Oof. New kid on the block in ’99, though, so both the low ranking and the stilted seller are eminently forgivable… Where’s GR? No. 3!!(?) But… wut… so what does that make W & M? Negative twelve??? Where is McElroy?
O sweet simian Xmas. No.
No. 39. 1974’s Lookout Cartridge. “McElroy is most important of all ‘unknown’ postmodernist American authors; vaguely analogous to Antonioni’s Blow Up, Cartridge is a fascinating, gigantic mystery novel that demonstrates the cross fertilization that has been recently occurring between film and prose fiction.”
But… so… how… where’s the white whale from 1987??
What could be our sine-wavey ’quiv here, we who quiv?
Only this. Like if a booker of unimpeachable integrity and admirable daring had Bellamy’d backward from 1900 upon his bygone century’s 100 and bulls-eyed War and Peace and Middlemarch and Austen and Dickens and so on &c &c and oh yes, absolutely earning its spot at No. 39, an unsung operatic monument by this American visionary named Herman Melville. And the book? Billy Budd.
2. Drop into your AM/FM telecommute a jolt of pure literary sunshine. This is my favorite story in American letters. It always makes me smile. I can’t help it. Because it’s not a story. This is nonfiction, people. The winking Web is ours forever.
It is May 17, 1996. Infinite Jest has just been published. Its author, David Foster Wallace, has just dropped into an on-line “chat” or “AMA” with his most devoted fans. These are the pilgrims of progress who wonder, Would he be (relatively) sunny today? The ones who know that their idol, their one true living god, had cited, with all the requisite props and approbation, this precedent called Lookout Cartridge as McGuffin-model for his own incomparable mega-novel. Little-known JPM had already accrued considerable street cred with DFW, is what I’m saying.
It’s May 17, 1996. Wallace is holding forth. He’s off the cuff, he’s squirmy and bookish and frank, he’s so painfully trying to connect with all these personhoods manifesting as so many spluttering cursors across a colorless gray screen. Then a fan called Jay innocently breathes, “Do you think what Joseph McElroy was doing in ‘Women and Men’ is similar to what you’re doing?”
A day in May a scant quarter-C ago. And this is how David Foster Wallace responded to that all-important question:
I thought that book sucked canal-water, Jay.
Did your eyebrows dance? Did they giggle? Mine chortled and quivved. Again. Because I love it. I love that line so much, just the generosity of a world that can even accommodate such a line. What the howling shloads can we get from it?
Just a snapshot. Shortly after dropping The Brothers Karamazov on his motherland, awkward genius Fyodor Dostoevsky is made to attend one of those newfangled “press conferences.” Midway through, a rabid peasant, knowing that the people’s new and forever hero had professed deep admiration for Anna Karenina, blurts out, “But I’ve heard rumors! What of this Varr and Peace?” And Fyodor just kinda sits there, moping, before pronouncing, guttural and free, “That book… I feel it in my bones, comrade… that book milked artificial cows.”
Sucked? Okay. To each her own. Water? Interesting… Did you catch wind of this? Joseph McElroy, b. 1930, has apparently been gushing the last several years whirling the finishing touches on a special tome of nonfiction. Yeah. And it’s all about the biggest coolest thing on the planet: water. But canal?? That’s what slays me. So particular! Exactly what kind of work did Wallace think that that word was performing? Why not bong water? Or sewer water?
Canals are human-made. They flow into each other. They connect things. Their interlocking links and locks facilitate commerce among us. Natural and cultural. Conceptual and corporeal. Forever muddying the boundaries of our. Women and Men teases a micro-McGuffin (read neuron tickler) about a scuba diver foraging amongst Manhattan’s piers which, as I murkily recall, doesn’t really go anywhere. It simply lurks, latent, unilluminated as capillary moss. By far – by all the miles of the Erie Canal – IJ and W & M remain the two richest funnest re-readable loessy floes down which I have ever been fictioned. They both create habitable orbs of connections, of linkages bitty vast real imagined future passed mist all-encompassing. They’re both written just before the Web begins throwing off everyone’s Mason & Dixon baselines and Sirius transects. They’re both coming into halting hopeful being just as our Really Big Panama Data Canal is gearing up to chug into frenetic train.
Whitman’s great vision culminates in his celebration of the spanning of our continent with rails, the closing of the gap between Europe and America with the transatlantic cable, and the opening of the Suez Canal. These completed the circle of which Columbus had drawn the first brave arc. More than commerce would flow along that new route that at last belted the whole earth. Why should not ideas as archaic as man himself immigrate along that line? One reason Whitman is so interesting right now is that we do not yet know if that band around the earth is an umbilicus or a strangling cord.
— Guy Davenport, “Whitman,” The Geography of the Imagination
Some people believe that Infinite Jest marks an endpoint. That there’s nowhere left to go. I believe that just over its ridge, lurking just one Corliss Engine depot beyond, there is something else – an ocean, a cosmos, a silent wheel of light – waiting for us with the sublime patience of Walt Whitman. I believe that Women and Men marks many kinds of endpoint. A terminus of radiant gists along that canal of contingent imaginations which we call American fiction. To those who have experienced Infinite Jest’s mercilessly engineered withdrawal, to those who come down from the scuba-high of its addictively immersive barge-water and smile wryly (read ruefully) at our forever blurred world, breathing with dread certainty that they have just experienced the Fall Line pinnacle of a certain mode of travel, may I gently recommend making just one more watershed stop?
3. Our third hand: execrable, Untouchable.
Three bits to orb onto—
—novelist Joseph McElroy of New York and literary scholar Harold Bloom (1930-2019) of New York were born only forty days apart – yikes, Yahweh – meaning even though they shared seemingly nothing in common – disposition, interests, style, physiognomy – they had, for more or less the exact same century, breathed more or less the exact same air.
—Some dismissals of major works are so spectacularly wrong-headed as to provoke instant infinite life-enhancing mirth. Others…? Here is Bloom on a certain beloved novel: “Just awful. It seems ridiculous to have to say it. He can’t think, he can’t write. There’s no discernible talent…. Stephen King is Cervantes compared with Wallace…. I even resented the use of the term from Shakespeare, when Hamlet calls the king’s jester Yorick, ‘a fellow of infinite jest’.” Should an angel inform him that one of the many McGuffins invisibly tape-worming through Women and Men is the mounting of an underground opera based upon Hamlet?
—I bore the man himself no ill will. Thanks in part to McElroy, I try conscientiously never to resent another soul. I sometimes do, nonetheless, “hate watch” Grey’s Anatomy. I read – I re-read, compulsively – I cannot get enough – how “rancid,” how “outrageous!” – how can this stuff enjoy any esteem, any credibility? – what is it that makes this man’s world the opposite – not the opposite, just the irredeemably off tangent, the life-kinking shadow – of those breathed by Davenport, Kenner, Dirda, Mathews, Gass, Sorrentino, Howe – how can these words even be?? – Bloom’s big books. I guess you could say that I “hate read” Harold Bloom.
Anthemic Medal Podium: Objections to King Leopold’s View of Things (read Objects)
Bronze: The central argument of Bloom’s biggest book – the bedrock of all his books – is that William Shakespeare “invented us.” By creating characters who embody distinctive personalities, the Bard invented the modes through which we continue to talk to ourselves, to persuade ourselves and, ultimately, to change. Bloom really meant this. “A more conservative way of stating this would seem to me a weak misreading of Shakespeare: it might contend that Shakespeare’s originality was in the representation of cognition, personality, character. But there is an overflowing element in the plays, an excess beyond representation, that is closer to the metaphor we call ‘creation.’ The dominant Shakespearean characters – Falstaff, Hamlet, Rosalind, Iago, Lear, Macbeth, Cleopatra among them – are extraordinary instances not only of how meaning gets started, rather than repeated, but also of how new modes of consciousness come into being.” So… had Shakespeare never lived… who, then, would we be? “Shakespeare, in cultural terms, represents our largest contingency; Shakespeare is the cultural history that overdetermines us.” Well then! “This complex truth renders vain all our attempts to contain Shakespeare within concepts provided by anthropology, philosophy, religion, politics, psychoanalysis, or Parisian ‘theory’ of any sort. Rather, Shakespeare contains us; he always gets there before us, and always waits for us, somewhere up ahead.” Just over the next ridge, I suppose.
Question. If what people now call personality or human nature or self-aware cognition all stems from one particular playwright, then the ways in which that man’s revolutionary concepts permeated or trickled down upon or diffused across or just got used by ordinary folks… wouldn’t that be the Largest Story Ever? Wouldn’t it be right up there with the rise of Christianity and the Industrial Revolution and the last days of Elvis? So where are the volumes devoted to this phenomenon, Mr. Bloom? Where are the energetic social histories which, having consented never to contain Wm. Shakespeare, nonetheless diligently track the myriad capillary mosses by/thru which Bardian Psychology got bardo’d into our daily rebreathings? Where are the gigantic tomes which painstakingly reconstruct the enormous multi-faceted loessy processes through which this invention of the human, you know, happened?
Suggestion. A book like that exists. It is a fiction but so, in their own ways, are all books. Interested in new modes of consciousness coming into being? Well, the book I’m extolling owes much of its illimitable illuminatos to dramatizing – crude wooden word – manifesting, living, breathing – that very process.
The shifts from women and men to women-and-men, from I to we, are not wishful or sentimental or theoretical. They are the result of a generalized reduction and destruction of dualities, separations, distinctions, hierarchies: in history, in physics, in ethics, in the uses of language and literature. The destruction takes place not through assertion or argument, although there is plenty of entertaining argument, but through reading itself: a new reading of reality is made available as an effect of reading the text of the book. I know that this cannot be clear, but I must say it anyway.
— Harry Mathews, “We For One,” as early as the third (!) paragraph, my italics
It is possible to discover what in the name of all the living angels this man is talking about.
Silver. Harold Bloom believed that the greatest Shakespearean characters are more intelligent, more large, more real, than anyone we’ll ever meet in real life. “I never know how to take the assurances (and remonstrances) I receive from Shakespeare’s current critics, who tell me that Falstaff, Hamlet, Rosalind, Cleopatra and Iago are roles for actors and actresses but not ‘real people.’ Impressed as I (sometimes) am by these admonitions, I struggle always with the palpable evidence that my chastisers not only are rather less interesting than Falstaff and Cleopatra, but also are less persuasively alive than Shakespearean figures, who are (to steal from Ben Jonson) ‘rammed with life’…” “I have known a number of intelligent philosophers and a vast multitude of poets, novelists, storytellers, playwrights. No one should expect them to talk as well as they write, yet even the best of them, on their best day, cannot equal those men made out of words, Falstaff and Hamlet.”
Question. Those characters are indeed made of words. So if Fat Jack and the Prince of Denmark “manifest the most comprehensive consciousness in all of literature,” in which hour-limited words, exactly, does this “comprehensiveness” consist? If Falstaff’s stage-time was cut by, say, sixteen percent, would he still be realer than any Cultural Studies acolyte? How ’bout forty-one percent? What’s the textual threshold for “reality” here? If a character were simply to declare, “I am Consciousness, I am The One,” would that render him/her more “comprehensive”? Different angle: Isn’t the “personhood” of any character so much less interesting than the canal-technology of creating it? By talking about the characters as if they’re already given and whole and waiting to be somehow “equaled,” aren’t you frustrating readers interested not in the “who,” but in the “how” – in the processes through which this illusion of reality gets created? At least Bloom did provide a “brief cento of Sir John’s own utterances” in which we might hear “the blessing of life itself. I hear a great wit, but also an authentic sage, destroying illusions.” Here is the first such passage:
O, thou hast damnable iteration, and art indeed able to corrupt a saint: thou hast done much harm upon me, Hal, God forgive thee for it: before I knew thee, Hal, I knew nothing, and now am I, if a man should speak truly, little better than one of the wicked.
Here is the single sentence that I encountered early in Women and Men which crystallized everything vaguely wondrous and pleasurable I’d been space-ambling through without really “getting,” the single Fall Line tipping point beyond which I was enwombed completely, utterly helpless but for the author’s “gently and encouragingly” (—HM) incorporating us into some larger sensed community via his/its own species of nutty (read bizarre) bedrock authority, reading henceforth for and within a multivalent experiential delirium I’d never fully understand – “Margin or center? Mayn went on and on, angelic waste like education passing through him so he mattered so little he would just go on living contaminated to a ripe old age…” (W & M, p. 912) – but which, nonetheless, was palpably more nourishing and invigorating than any I’d ever encountered:
Then a tender compliment feels you where you live but some countdown the end of whose unseen hand sure reminds him he’s forgotten a little lower-back dread born of today though of a future known in one’s system if not spelled out except in some longer, tough stranger-tongue in the old animal mouth: that you yourself are this vagrant stump-tail monkey-bird Choor Mon’, still not quite shaped despite all these generations, and of which the mountain really remains to be found, for the coastline breaks that won’t stay put when you go looking for them hours after your infra-red aerial scan has jointed and correlated them with unfamiliar uncaused weather pockets of non-pressure mount up, until the impossible shape asking more and more to be called ancient threatens to be understood by not the curves and equations of some loner Meteorologist of New York but actually him whom you never dreamt of identifying with earlier Hermit-Inventors of New York historied by a grandmother whose tales made up to fill a grandson’s mother-gap became extra-true at a bad time for you.
— Joseph McElroy, Women and Men, p. 92
(Oh woman… I just hate when ideas like that become extra-true. It’s always at a bad time…)
Suggestion. A 1,192-page book like that. For that sentence is typical. If it’s a “character,” we’ve definitely got sufficient textuality to declare that there are THOUSANDS very much like it. Threaded densities, orchestrated variants. Emotions rendered spatial. Figurings thru wormhole memories (in) which we find ourselves (by) working through. The only way for us to appreciate the meanings of that sentence – à la my own micro-watershed Aha! inextricably intermuddied with this tingling blooming rising tide of NOOO WAYYYY – is to immerse ourselves in the whole. A book whose very processes – that word again, that suggestion! – enact their own significance.
It might be simpler to say that moving from the known to the unknown shocks us out of our initial expectations and leaves us open to the unfamiliar: but the point to be taken is that the structure and texture of the book embody the very agencies that it elsewhere describes…. As they heighten the effect of simultaneity, these methods of displacement destroy our cause-and-effect expectation and replace it with what the text often calls “remembering what we already know”…. and remind us that the one sequence, the one chronology of this novel belongs to us turning its pages. What can this chronology of ours correspond to? What is the continuity that embraces all the others? I see the answer as: not the actions and events that form the subject matter of the book but the process by which they are revealed, are learned about, are known. This process is the true plot of the novel, and in it we are one with the main characters: we experience the revelation of reality with them and like them…. Women and Men… is not prescriptive but descriptive, an account of our reality as a one-ness multiplying into stupendous variety, variety dissolving into one-ness. An account of our reality, no less recognizable for being altogether the author’s own; even if we must acknowledge less immediate readiness than his to destroy so many convenient categories of thought.
— who else, “We For One”
Breathe the unique atmospheres of this novel (?) which begins with a brief and beautifully off-key account of an unknown woman giving birth which then juxt-precipitates a wormhole into the first “Breather” section and we feel our own reading-as-learning birthing preremembered weathery processes within which we assemble sense and map knowledge. (Coastlines, families, pasts; which kinds?)
McElroy chooses to elide key terms in these connections, which means that important plot points are left unresolved, like circuits that are simultaneously on and off. It also means that the novel overwhelms — intentionally, I think — the reader’s memory. This is frustrating at first. Eventually, though, it makes the book come peculiarly alive; by the final episodes, every detail McElroy mobilizes — seemingly every word — resonates with half-remembered associations. And there is a philosophical method to McElroy’s madness. Where the “black comedy” strain of postmodernism seems to take the instability of narrative as an assault on the possibility of truth, McElroy’s ecstatic brand is asking us to imagine truth as the sum of all the ways to narrate it.
— Hallberg, “The Lost Post-Modernist”
Can’t we safely call James Mayn’s consciousness-ing “comprehensive”?
Eventually, can’t we do the same for ourselves?
An essay like that. An interview. A sentence fly-by that manufactures its own canvas in the space it also generated out of a music its thought spun off.
— Joseph McElroy, “Midcourse Corrections,” an essay written mere Orb-bits after W & M
Gold. Characters. That’s
what pretty much all Bloom cared about. That’s what makes Shakespeare so great: “no other writer, before or since… has accomplished so well the virtual miracle of creating utterly different yet self-consistent voices…” Of all things, that’s what makes the shift from Ulysses to Finnegans Wake so wrenching: “I lose Poldy…” More: “I am naïve enough to read incessantly because I cannot, on my own, get to know enough people profoundly enough.” (But if actual folks can never “match” Falstaff in “circumference,” in “personality,” why even bother?) Finally, the Golden Spike: “Most of us, I am persuaded, read and attend theater in search of other selves.”
Um, question. Character? CHARACTER?? What about the rest of us? What about those 2% 1% lurkers who don’t want to meet anyone else? What, for us, is that web called literature for?
Suggestion. Harold Bloom has forced my hand. This authority who at last century’s end so casually proclaimed “the major American novelists now at work are Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, Philip Roth, and Cormac McCarthy. They write the Style of our Age, and each has composed canonical works.” Such uncaused pockets of prose weather now compel me to de-lurk and thereby murk even further those coastline bounds of
Hamlet James Mayn Choor Monster character-selves via birth-canal extracting from a real-world wallet a preamble to a certain elitist isolationist earnest yearning prose atlas fitted to a long-ago folded well-pancaked (read never shared) 8 x 11 vellum sheet dream-called “the pocket ALG” whose prescriptive contours I must inevitably fail to forecast how unknown lurking breathers with ramifying futures will process:
records books? A: Hmm… unique reading experiences? Originalities of style… tone… voice… narrative form… formal architecture… syntax… the relation of words to ideas. Just as there’s no one right way to organize sound, there’s no natural method to order words –- and I want orderings I’d never imagined. And just as the “voice” of most classical music is lost on me –- listen for sixteen seconds and “yep, Western art-music composers composing” –- most recorded prose –- one point six paragraphs and “yep, British novel formulaic” –- is, too. Plot… character… “well-made stories”… genteel respectable New Yorker Hemingway Strunk & White clarity: NO. Prose by poets: YES. Muddy H2O: fiction/non, essay/atlas, almanac/play, anatomy/score, graphic novel/forecast… In general, the more different ways it’s been crafted to be mapped on the page, the better… In general, the Three “I”s: the more intricate, idiosyncratic, and [XX], the better. We’re already angels; our Orb lies here; there is no Afterlife. So: texts that breathe their own genres.
[ ]: Prose parallel, a to y – fit for Other ’llels: W & M—W’msburg; reverse M & W (read Music & Words), Gemini/Mimeses/Nemeses along our Coastline Consciousness
a. “After all, she was not sure what had happened, or when it had started” – the book’s first sentence – so I tell ourselves now that I first caught wind of this record while lurking on Dusted where Kevin Drumm – himself an American noiseneer of cultish renown and impeccably filthy taste – posted his “Listed” entry. And this is how he blurbed the record in question: “Man what a way to go out. Tom Smith spent five years putting this together and it shows. So much beautiful, diverse shit is packed into this. Truly monstrous.” Seed of intrigue.
b. The story is true. People can actually purchase this record on Amazon…
…where it sports one editorial review. Verbatim til someone censors it: “‘Watch out this thing is gonna fuck the shit out of you.’ For 5 years people have been asking about this album while its been intensely labored over, mixed, splintered & tweaked. Its about the tumult & capsizing of a marriage, love & life, the page where [the band] don their apocalyptic body armor, embody the blood of the freak generation & destroy all in its path. With help from the freak underground: FLYING LUTTENBACHERS, COUCH, SCISSOR GIRLS, ASHTRAY NAVIGATIONS & more. Double CD w/16 pg booklet”…
…and one user review, written by “Example: Mark Twain” and entitled “luc ferrari eat your heart out”: “musique concrete, dub, noise… whatever, this is [the record]. the product of many, many years work (and wait for all of us chiluns)… during which our man om myth went through a divorce and a brief stint as ringleader of several LSD consuming yakuza bike gangs all leading to the completion of this epic psycho-sexual song of solomon fellini nightmare. perfect from start to finish. one of the only pieces of music that never, no matter how many spins, fails to melt my mind.”
I don’t believe in [sic]s. Regardless: those blurbs don’t exactly inspire trust, do they? They do inspire (your own species of) something else.
People’s own species of something else itself is, of course, the theme in question.
c. Tell me that you’ve heard this record, Jim Jarmusch. Tell us. Heard you yesterday, sir. Fresh Air on NPR. Akron? So, like LeBron’s, Pere Ubu is in your blood. Your documentary on Iggy? Bless your soul, you still consider yourself an amateur filmmaker – amat, Latin, “love for.” Punk? DIY? Okay! Raw unvarnished expression! Ghost Dog! Oh woman, when that siren wail from Jimmy Lyons irrupts across the screen… And now this Paterson? As in, WCW’s Paterson!? What you did, that’s pretty much pushing down together all the buttons on my personal bandoneon and declaring it gorgeous. So just tell us, Mr. Jarmusch. Please. Just whisper breathe sing to me! That you’ve actually done it. I confess: I am desperate. All I do is lurk. I am starved for connections. I seek reassurance. I need to know stuff furreel. I need to re- or pre-know that certain perceived connections I breathe are also breathed by others. So tell us, you esteemed punk cinethnographer. Confirm that you have in fact sucked yourself into the canal-waters of this record. Not a record. Nay: this glorious DIY SHIT STY, this urgent howling jolt of cataract’d detritus in excelsis, of frustration carved out of living sonic rock, flustered flails mercilessly viciously hilariously excessively channeled, transmuted to/through something like dreadful (read full of dread) poetry, shuddering to shuttering half-life rite before our American ears. Invention is the mother of necessity and Kevin Drumm had a thing called Horror of Birth and please do. Tell us. Yesterday.
d. I don’t even like rock. It’s like asking people, “What’s your favorite BOOK?” And they respond with a few NOVELS. Catcher in the Potter. To Kill a Gatsby. Brave Old Man and the Sea World.
Why so rarely an atlassic usufructuary? Wither kooky cook books and samizdat pamphlets and Building Stories? I would rock-n-roll smooch on the sacred spot whoso would nourish the green grass with The Iconography of Manhattan Island.
And yet here I slouch. Confronting that Gap: “If you could own only one commercially-issued sound recording…” And my answer might very well be yep, a (both less-than-and-extra-) rock record made in the studio (with some (?) live bits) by a white American male (with a few (female and male) collaborators).
Killing myself. Why not some unclassifiable obscurity from early-70s La(g)os? Why not a neurophonic field recording of Kagelian Erewhon, a wooly ritual haunting some taped orbital mode? (Why not simply (smile) Mr. Rowe’s inexhaustible document, The Room Extended?) If NYC’s McElroy is indeed “our first planetary realist” (—LeClair) what does that make the Wmsbrg-sojourning Smith – a “living history museum”?
e. Every lurker I know – which is precisely zero – harbors the exact same fantasy. We all believe. That,
upon some glorious day,
we will de-lurk
in the most spectacular way.
That we will exit the cocoon – we will be compelled – to thunder a decisive contribution to a rich misguided discourse in which everyone else gets blown away by our erudite eloquent edifying.
To even attempt to realize this fantasy, I’d best bring my strongest content-bullets. Style alone is not enough. The art that I tout had damn well better be able to persuade – to overwhelm – entirely on its own merits.
One peril endemic to such spectacular de-lurking is that all those bullets, all those loessy muckbits of evidence I’ve been painstakingly archiving, get spilled all at once. This spilling spills right past the Seeds of Intrigue Lock and immediately floods the Let’s Exhaustively Examine Deep-Water Canal. Fellow lurkers, the very people whose trust I hope to gain, thereby lose their own opportunities to experience their own happy accidents, to beginninglessly discover/invent for themselves, to trust the instincts and judgments of the people they trust most (themselves). Their appreciation of the art I praise is unavoidably pre-conditioned – tainted – by the sheer quantity of evidence required for them to take me seriously in the first place.
Whitney “The Bullet” Balliett defined jazz as the sound of surprise. Much more long-winded than he, I define de-lurking to extoll an acquired taste as the howling in the wind of unw
Unwonted specificity itself is, of course, the theme here.
f. Calm. Repose. Pools of peace pock this record. Not every chapter in Women and Men is an imtricapenetrable “Breather.” Figure 16, “Song of Roland a Single Corkscrew Curl,” almost acts as a “single”: four minutes of unrelieved aggression, the snottiest punk as background migraine boil over which voxes duly comp(l)ete their beleaguered rounds. But the way it ends: this single note suddenly sundered by cello (?), acustica sustained, ominous, pensive, deeply resonant, weird. It’s an oasis made all the more stunning by contrast to what came before. Some chapters are remarkably straightforward short stories only loosely connected to anything else going on. They’re simply matrixed into the conglomerate, daubs of color which touch the palette of the book / our consciousness tangentially. Irreducibly strong and thoughtful in themselves, they gently remind us that all the unprecedented stylistic strangenesses of the other (far larger) chapters must indeed exist by choice (read necessity). Figure 11, “When My Rifle Went Sour with Preposterous Headdress,” concludes with an indescribable set of soft scrapings upon something – melodic metal bars? – amidst muffled rustling percussion – cardboard boxes? – inside a cavernous space. It’s eerie. It’s gorgeous. It’s positively forlorn. Figure 15, “The Notorious D-1 and D-2,” kicks off with a chorale processed, as Dusted put it, “through a shlocky, oversaturated keyboard bed, producing a sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir of vocoders: the effect of patronizing dime store catharsis, nestled in the middle of all this hell, becomes oddly touching, like letting the damned man see God for a few seconds before he roasts.” One character, HM favorite Jimmy Banks, a young black bike messenger, intuits much of New York’s tacit transport floes. His three chapters – “known bits” I, II, and III – take the linear-yet-fragmentary form of an outline, a list, an “a.” through “y.” Could it be that contrasts – random ordered contrasts – the unknown orderly coastline bits of heightened contrast – make peace possible between – what – the two artworks here – yeah – but I mean, us?
g. Opposites. In so many ways, this record must be the spiritual 180 of Women and Men.
hermetic vs. open-hearted
misanthropic vs. compassionate
pessimistic glee vs. optimistic spree
damned vs. undammed
screw it vs. screwy
detritus – delight us
“A man can grow committed to incompatible things” (HK, TPE, 457). A woman, too, I imagine.
h. Come on. Could this ever be American Rawk in the same ways that its only plausible rival in that category, Trout Mask Replica, clearly is? Could it ever be a mere “album”?
We already know the answer. Liberated, untethered. “This is PRE. The story is true.” So trumpets the record sleeve in purple type emblazoned atop the meaningless (yet meaningfully) intricate coat of arms featuring a proud rooster (read cock) and mock-solemn/grateful rhetoric which megaphones, and I quote, “A fitting conclusion to [the band’s] pre-Apocalyptic revolution, featuring verbal De Vermis Mysteriis and studio deviations from the norm. Many moons in the making (with too many remixes to count) [the record’s] appearance with herald like the angels that pour the vials and break the seals. Doomsday comes for [the band], and the ship goes down in flames with many guests on board for the final ride. They will not be missed.”
Sincere question: Is Women and Men a novel? It’s definitely not a story. It is a book within which imagination can dwell. Is it – simply – more comprehensively – a fiction?
i. Harold Bloom noted that “the sublime Oscar Wilde, who was right about everything,” remarked that “all bad poetry is sincere.” Well, I am so sincere that it’s painful. And I’ve worked so damn hard to freight this prose extra-true. Tweaking, experimenting, remixing, rereading roughshod over all vitalities, mine and its… And for what? For the final mix: page-bound words that’ll never writhe in the ways I wish. Bloom’s favorite quote: it’s
Om Myth Nietzsche: “That for which we find words is already dead in our hearts. There is always a kind of contempt in the act of speaking.” One of my favorite quotes: it’s Gass: “I write slowly because I write badly. I have to rewrite everything many, many times just to achieve mediocrity.” There you go, William. I’m with you.
But sincere? Diligent? This record and this book orbit so far beyond “sincere” and “diligent” that it’s not even funny. Women and Men breathes the uncanny illusion that it was not so much composed by a human god as improvised by humane angels (read our dreaming). And the record? Diligence – sure. Few would question that. But sincere? What’s the sphere beyond that – intense, right? Yep: its passions, however arcane, are surely, at the very least, intense. But no—need a better word—
j. Venn diagrams.
The record: Noise. Punk. Metal? Glam?? Not my cuppas – to put it mildly. One possible invisible contingent MATTRESS STAIN where they all intersect, tho…
The book: Meganovels (Gaddis, Pynchon, Barth – cynical, po-mo, meta). Modernist monuments (Proust, Joyce, Faulkner). Realist monuments (War & Peace, Middlemarch). Sci-Fi! Their vibrating libration point.
But really, this is all… irredeemably off. Isn’t it?
The record is definitely the work of a man. (That’s not exactly a Freudian compliment.) It’s sometimes unclear if Women and Men is definitely the work of a man. (That’s a Shakespearean compliment.)
Mr. Tom Smith, a.k.a. Om Myth: “I sincerely believe that the obsession with taxonomy, with category, with identification with genre, leads ultimately to a catastrophic deadening of spirit, a diminution of mystery, and the rape of awe.” Sincerely, he says!
Mr. Venn (that’s me) never really did learn how to deal with Ms. Sue E. Generous. I do want her, though.
k. Rateyourmusic.com: the Goodreads of music. As of Valentine’s Day, 2020, this record sports a pathetic 3.14 (out of 5) rating. It has also been featured in a RYM open-source list: “Outsider masterpieces that are too inaccessible for even our community to fully appreciate.” Which breathers out there waiting to be born would appreciate this shit, if only for obstacles we sense but cannot name?
l. This is probably the ugliest record I’ve ever heard. Certainly the most doggedly sustained. It rages and weeps for two Butterfinger-bristling hours. No filler. It fills somewhere else’s American headache.
Loads of uglies out there: industrial screeches, screams of suffering, corroding channels, roaring statics, hyperdrived electricals, feedback, skree, cancerous bomb-bass, Metal Machine Music. There’s early AMM (smile). There’s Noise, the strait-jacket genre.
Of course there are almost no identifiable instruments. Of course at first listen the record sounds like the Modern Library’s idea of “noise,” a jumbled mélange of all those uglies listed above. It’s possible that this record samples Noise, amateur free jazz, field recordings of who knows, sobbing, shrieks, “Target shoppers.” It’s possible that it samples the pornographic film To Live and Shave in L.A. It’s possible it’s merely mulching itself, belching as it unspools. I can’t tell. It doesn’t matter.
Noise tends toward monotony really quickly. Medieval a cappella choral works usually sound matchlessly refreshing – for all of the first sixteen seconds. Piercing the threshold of freshness – generating textural surprise purely through contrasts among materials already in play – becomes more difficult with each passing moment.
With the ice-hearted malice of Edmund’s anti-angel, the architect of our record pre-cogged this.
“There can surely be no music that is simultaneously so pummeling to your visceral senses and so utterly exquisite,” floats Tiny Mix Tapes. “Every horrible sound is heard in perfect fidelity, every sonic contrast thoroughly effective.”
“The only record I’ve ever heard that SOUNDS LIKE IT WAS WORKED ON CONTINUOUSLY FOR SEVEN YEARS,” plummets C.M. Sienko at Blastitude. “The mix is dense, yet completely lucid. I can hear at least four layers of different kinds of manipulations (tape edits, digital processing, computer manipulation, multitrack gymnastics), and I’m sure those with a degree in this stuff will hear more. It wasn’t a stonewall…when Tom said he was remixing this for a fiftieth time, he wasn’t stalling for time (‘I’ll be right with you, I’m just…uh…packing my smokes’). Layers shift in and out of focus, dissolve to static, intentionally overload, desaturate, flip to negative and snap back into shape with nary a tear in the fabric.”
“The sound conjured by [the band] is unprecedented,” asserts Ray Brassier at Multitudes. “Where noise orthodoxy too often identifies sonic extremity with an uninterrupted continuum of distorted screeching, [the band] sculpt finely wrought twisters of writhing sound by coupling scrambled speech, keening oscillator, abstract shards of bass and guitar, and a dizzying array of sampled musics (glam-rock, metal, avant-classical, industrial, jazz, pop, and country) into a far from equilibrium maelstrom topped by Smith’s crazed croon, which spews reams of splenetic invective. Orthodox noise compresses information, drowning out detail in a torrential deluge; [the band] construct songs around an overwhelming plethora of sonic detail, challenging the listener to engage with a surfeit of information. There is always too much rather than too little to hear at once; an excess which invites repeated listens. The aural fascination exerted by the songs is accentuated by Smith’s libretti, which feature verbal conundrums whose inventiveness baffles and delights in equal measure. Just as [the band’s] sound incorporates an overload of sonic information, Smith’s words embody a semantic hypertrophy which can only be transmitted by a vocal that mimes the senseless eructations of glossolalia.”
Upshot. You’re never mired for too long in the same horrific grin-of-the-damned turn-that-shit-OFF texture window. Constant stuttering mutations bloom like luckless stars across the acoustic field… processed field recordings of unknown processes set off, like flawed gems, permanently obliging crudescences… megaphones and cassettes and voice(s) struggle in vain to perforate fugitive layered depths… random mappable burials invite us right in, tantalizing but never exactly deceiving… specially-whipped mikes swoon in and out of hurricane-eyescapes perceived as in ideal imagination… time-forward logorrhea vomits its own opaque commune-able past… all the exquisitely tempered control required to create this self-devouring flagellation, bares its own vivisected honeycomb tripe… what comes to count as coherence gets birthed and aborted, over and over, breathing a novel species of visceral dare I say cognition.
So ugliness becomes the mere stuff. The content, the material, the fodder on the page.
And the actual music – each of the twenty “songs”
breathing heaving its own emergent tinta, its own distinctive “voice” – becomes, in effect, the processes of (pre)remembering how to revel in it all.
…familiar! It’s this very quality which renders it (read novel, hear record) positively unfamiliar every single time I drop in.
m. Another thing Bloom did. (The objects just keep coming.) He hypothetically dropped characters from one book into another, and then tried to imagine the (cognitive? aesthetic?) wreckage. Example: “One way of seeing the particular strength of Light in August as against Faulkner’s other major novels is to speculate as to which could contain Lena. Her massively persuasive innocence could hardly be introduced into The Sound and the Fury or Absalom! Absalom!, and would utterly destroy As I Lay Dying or Sanctuary. Natural sublimity, Wordsworthian and almost Tolstoyan, requires a large cosmos if it is to be sustained.” What could it possibly mean to place a character – made of words! – into another book? Which formal structures, exactly, make books irreconcilable? I don’t understand why Joseph McElroy couldn’t “contain” any character from all of literature via one of his curious integrating consciousness-sentences. I don’t get why Tom Smith couldn’t salvage snippets of any recording since 1876 and mix its macerated essence into his record’s innards. I cannot comprehend the cosmos (read ontology) of what Bloom is doing.
If Harold Bloom ever heard this music—well, he would’ve turned it off within sixteen seconds. But if he ever really listened to it, I’m pretty sure that it would’ve utterly destroyed him. Are we supposed to understand what that means?
n. My two li’l kids! Adorbs: middle school: homework, sports, frolics → CDs in my Mazda CX-9. They call AMM “moderate noise.” Composition No. 30: Compilation III. Royal Trux. Anything sold on Forced Exposure. Alms/Tiergarten (Spree). Graham Lambkin. ErstLive 005. Ground Zero. Maritime Rites. Willisau. Takayanagi. Roaratorio. Destroy All Monsters. Love Me Two Times. Anything.
But there is one record – only one – that my avenging angels knowingly know as “vicious noise.”
Come up for air from Women and Men and take a ferociously disciplined guess.
o. Kenner has Joyce’s Voices. Describing Women and Men’s “voice” is fruitless. Good thing “Smith’s voice is a work of art on its own, and pretty much impossible to describe,” confesses Max Black at Dusted. “A sleazy sex drawl modulating into an ass-on-fire screech into Vegas cigarette-lounge crooning. There is something supernatural about it, and in visualizing him singing I like to imagine his head expanding, contracting and developing bulges in sync with the music. He tends to sing on a single pitch, sliding and twisting notes for emphasis, working around a cramped, sickly melody that never fully appears. There is something hypnotic about the incantantory, monotonous declamation of the bizarre lyrics, and I can’t help noting the resemblance to another notable vocalist named Smith: as with The Fall, there is the literary style and total inscrutability in the lyrics, mannered vocal accent, delirious, repetitive intonation of one line after another, and the sense that the music is somehow actively antagonistic to and tormenting the vocalist instead of ‘playing along’.” We must inhabit these works lest they never inhabit us. We who are in both works interrogated – pleasurably tortured? – by some omni-inquisitional narrator sounding things.
p. Davenport has “Where Poems Come From.” Describing what Women and Men is “about” is fruitless. Good thing Mr. Black recalls, “Oh, the lyrics. The core around which the music wraps is a bizarre stylistic amalgamation of French Symbolism, 16th century epic poetry, and hot porno that seems calculated for impenetrability and frequently comes in rhymed couplets. Example: ‘Coitus itself became the sled of single, canonical scent/The pornographer, his flowering, galloping eye, sky of his delight/remained faithful to beloved Lucrece, and ogled and consumed.’ Eh? All of this obscurity is, in turn, very rarely intelligible in the music, as Smith obscures the words under the heavy production and nutcase declamation, but clearly, a hell of a lot of work went into making them. Trying to get ‘the point’ behind this is like trying to decipher Linear B, but the surface is so overwhelming and dense that you still want to attempt it: and there is something mystical and obscure about this aspect of the music—like an enormous, sumptuous temple built to house a few chunks of unidentified human remains.” More from the canniest review out there: “The involved Reformation-era pastiche of the lyrics actually feeds this: there is something about all the horny viscounts in bulging tights, sweaty chafed monks busting out of their hairshirts, piles of engaged jiggling rosy flesh, coupling, still adorned in boustiers and codpieces, smothered under roccoco glop, and, of course, gigantic metastatized wigs (imagine the smell), that seems a lot dirtier than the usual fishnets-n-booze sleaze imagery. The music seems like hellfire and damnation and Smith, in true satanic fashion, seems to be the wretch in torment and simultaneously enjoying himself.” No one wanted such specificity. Whitman “wrote a corpus of poems for the entire nation,” Davenport instructs, “to give them a tongue to unstop their inarticulateness.” Interpretations welcome. Lurk for yourself.
q. American title-ers. IMP: Ives, Mingus, Partch. Beefheart. Fahey. The Duke. World Wide Walt.
According to the table of contents – “a ‘poem’ in itself,” notes HM – Women and Men comprises thirty-three chapters. Our record comprises twenty-seven – a to extra-y – tracks (“Figures”) of which seven are interstitial “Travelogues,” “breathers” (if you will) in which our wholesome/cheesy Fifties-radio “narrator” details the inexplicable/comforting record-long conceit of his and “Mildred’s” summer vacation “to the southeastern corner of Virginia, where we turned back the pages of time to the eighteenth century.” So sixty total titles.
See some of those titles now. They’re on the launch pad in pairs, getting teleported out to a libration point in sublunar space where, upon arrival on the platform, each pair has somehow fused to become a single intuitive entity.
See them. Cue them. (Q – letter sixteen.) Eight from each arrayed below. No scrambled words, just juxtaposed adjoinings.
See if we can any longer divine which (real, sic) title belongs to which (putative, aborted) essence:
Nor Swollen-Bellied Comet Blown Wall-to-Wall High Reaching for the Ground Blandina, Oberwilding ’77 New Poem Dramatized for Lux Cudgel THE CURVE SPEAKS UPON THE VOID The “Rose” the Vehicle of Miss High Heels Her Place Is There Bled into Minar Thirty-Aught Veit Harlan, Brown Dress Bob the unknown sound Alias Missing Conversation Mike-Whipped Landscape Specially Flown In Loudspeakers for the Poet’s Famous Disques the unknown saved Honeycomb Tripe THE HERMIT-INVENTOR OF NEW YORK, THE ANASAZI HEALER, AND THE UNKNOWN ABORTER
r. This cannot be and is the only record I ever want to re-hear while I am listening to it.
s. Dr. Johnson, Bloom’s favorite – along with Montaigne and Freud, the only nonfictioneer surveyed in The Western Canon – said in reference to Sterne’s subversive seminal Tristram Shandy, “nothing odd will do for long.”
He was exactly wrong.
The only art that will slake the lurker’s thirst amidst our viral-sludged webbage is the very odd indeed, the odd pursued to the oddnesses of its own odd ends. For odd read uncanny, sui generis, unwonted, no way, pre/alt-Web, but seriously why, Gass cultish, folk canonical.
A forum where I lurk – ihatemusic.noquam.com – hosts Joe Foster’s canny warning: “People who constantly seek novelty will inevitably eventually succumb to ennui.”
Yes – so be it – already there.
Yes – so redouble your bedrock faith in the sheer preposterous (read infinite) diversity of reports from the darkling crenellated fronts of Thee Human Experience. And let’s make sure the stuff we do spend the most time with is as bounteously alt as possible.
The problem with our popular canon of nonfiction is that it honors books which tell us something about Their Times. Books that are – or, worse, were – IMPORTANT. Impactful. Influential.
I, I, I.
Those are the wrong “I”s.
We need another trinity.
Iteration immediately initiated:
That’s the stuff. Wild wormhole wrongheaded shit. Nonfiction equivalents to meganovels. Prose parallels to The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly. Amateur labyrinths that, across barrel-aged exposures, renew their and our honeycomb selves. Lunatic scholarship birthing new species of indexes, novel mappables, unsuspected genres of Wittgensteinian “forms of life” that, yes, some Other breathing earthly airs once upon a time invented or discovered. Stuff that’s intriguing inviting inspiring – nay, IMPLACABLE IMPOSSIBLE INEXHAUSTIBLE – on its own unique terms – despite its sociopolitical irrelevance – because of its unto-itself oneness.
Our megabook here—
Aye, aye, aye.
t. Render this record into bite-sized bits. Obdurate tableaux. Your own mini-rituals. One coherent track/chapter to savor per session. Acquired tastes worth acquiring. Slices alive. It keeps happening, every time. The how, the process of doing so. McElroy’s prose.
u. And if you keep lurking — over and over — so over — over many green months –- over –- yes — many colorless gray years — out of rote habit — out of throttling addiction — out of fears and loves and hates purely of your own making — then something happens to you. You start to transmogrify — gradually — unstoppably — into a latter-day Marschner.17 B/c not only do you spend untold thousands of sober hours at your Center of Calculation, unseen, unsuspected, exercising on a daily basis your excessively refined Judgments upon Character and Canonicity — but ALSO — you eventually function best ONLY: when you’re riffing through your precious lists (on paperscraps that you mark up feverishly between classes so as to appear busy; in the shower, whose glorious limescalery you never clean because Musing about Records roars through your arteries, right over your wife’s sorry-honey-but-just-not-bracing-or-hot-enough complaints)… when you’re ruthlessly subjecting your own (lack of) knowledge to the most vicious/withering/self-lacerating doubts you can muster… basically whenever you’re nurturing — right: witnessing — the Transmogrification: a layered, halting, “organic,” yet also completely self-solipsistic evolution into your own unique species of Master Metalister.
All this. All this! For what? For the ultimate prize, the only one that will fulfill: the power to draw unimpeachably authoritative boundaries around — and, thereby, to >>bring into existence<< — a deliberately limited number of…
Isn’t that pretty much exactly what Francis Joseph Marschner did for those things he called “American land-use regions” — in the 1940s?!?!
Why couldn’t someone TODAY do the exact same thing… only for records???
Why couldn’t some hapless, self-anointed, to-hell-with-it soul create the very thing that prior generations of record-lovers had to do without?????
Well… YES!!! OKAY!!
So, here at last, we have one. A map of unique listening experiences. To be precise:
a critical discography of fifty talismanic records 1.) which embody truly one-of-a-kind aesthetics (and/or atmospheres and/or states of being); and 2.) which (at least) yours truly, omnivorous, jaded, Internet-Age listener incarnate, couldn’t do without.
Hence this book. A Lurker’s Guide to Recorded Sound. No colon; no subtitle. I warn you: it’s basically an annotated atlas. Only one with some unnecessary quirks.
For one thing, it’s “medium-scale.” It matches up each of the fifty records to a corresponding/analogous American State; it zooms into
v. Whetting celestial gut-bucket appetites. Curving your resolve to de-lurk from obstacles to it.
My job here: it’s not to convince you to look into this book. Just Paragraph One, and that decision, yea or nay, was preincarnated.
My job is to vivisect certain processes of understanding. Why the most frustrated of records somehow respires a librational oneness with the most compassionate of novels. Why both works, for all their manifold 179s and 181s, nonetheless represent a single vibrating essence of achieved uniqueness.
Whatever understanding I attain wants to irrupt erupt explode.
Ahhh, but one thing both works also teach: it’s blurry whether a lurker’s ever can.
w. STATE 47. To Live and Shave in L.A., The Wigmaker in 18th-Century Williamsburg (Menlo Park 2CD, 1995-2000)
Gemini. Kazumoto Endo / Utah Kawasaki, Intracoastal Wavery (Pappyy 2CD, 2004) // Milk & Honey. Pop Group, Y (Mute, 2019 [Radar, 1979]) This Heat, Deceit (This Is, 2006 [Rough Trade, 1981]) // Nemesis. nmperign / Jason Lescalleet, Love Me Two Times (Intransitive 2CD, 2006)
Mysterious, sacerdotal psychic rituals, transcending science, can blend our vocables with the remote impulses which licit speaking no longer satisfies.
——HK, TPE, 106
…intricate noise? baroque punk? tape nihilism? the most fussed-over perfectionist record I own; for once the cliché holds: the textures truly do sound damaged; perhaps only The Room Extended or Delusion of the Fury rivals it as the epitome of “music with a reason to exist”; when nothing else appeals, when I want something to just wipe everything else away, here’s my fathomless companion in the void…
x. XOXOX. Exes and ohs, excess and Os.
I will never play this record for my wife. It is, after all, much stronger than anything within me. It is hostile to everything wholesome with which customary air vibrates. I am not strong enough to overcome my deep psychosomatic knowledge that playing Wigmaker for my faithful breadwinning mate – doing so approvingly – would destroy any credibility that I have in her eyes – as a music fan, as a father, as a human of any taste and judgment whatsoever.
“When I put this on one recent Sunday afternoon and the maelstrom ensued, my wife quipped ‘What’s this we’re listening to? Hell?’” recounts Blastitude’s Larry “Fuzz-o” Dolman. “Funny I mention ‘wife,’ as The Wigmaker has been labored over by Smith and Co. since 1995, and in that time, Smith went through a divorce. It wasn’t easy, natch, something he’s written about candidly in online essays and e-mail updates, hinting that The Wigmaker had more or less become a concept album about – or at least heavily informed by – these difficult events. It’s no wonder my wife was a little taken aback; in those sounds churning out of the speakers, she was hearing for real a message she had heard before in a thousand pop songs for fake: ‘good lovin’ gone bad.’ The Wigmaker gives an idea what it might really feel like.”
I love my wife so much in my own particular way that I have never shared with her the lurking background fact about these last few quarantined months: that I have, at every stolen stuttering moment, been birth-canaling this essay. I have not breathed into her whatever socially distanced knowledge might fall out of my own amateurish remixing so as to de-lurk in the most spectacular way, so as to “make something” of this ongoing suite of bitter erosions called Adulthood. Whatever the results. However hopeless, however true.
Forty-one’s après le goo. I’ll soon turn forty-four. Perhaps forty-seven. Like unsung millions of Americans, I enjoy many creature comforts but vanishingly few robust connections and dignities and sanities. PRE, said Tom Smith, means “all possibilities extant, even the disastrous ones.”
(All that untapped oxytocin going to angelic waste, accumulating as bitter bile, sour choler… It’s okay. When I die (much) younger than numberless alt-reality versions of my richer-connected selves, at least I will have experienced in this exceedingly specific solitary confinement Women and Men and Wigmaker. (FOMO is a fixed cost; lurkers do not believe in any Afterlife.) Parentheticals be damned.)
This cannot be healthy.
So I turn to Joseph McElroy, miraculously still breathing upon Walt’s mal-air-harboring Mannahatta. I turn to him for guidance. I turn to him out of guilt. This man who must be the subsumed lunar unity of >>Tom-Smith-and-also-his-ex-wife<<. This fan who personally witnessed the return of Tom Seaver, oui, 41, to Shea Stadium on Opening Day, April 5, 1983 – my daughter’s birthday, a quarter-C’s earthly orbits from that date. This person who wrote so
sincerely wisely of women and men. The airs they share, the breaths that indissolubly connect them, their spontaneous spatial intimacies. Guy Davenport relayed that Louis Zukofsky “would not talk on the phone if [his wife] Celia were not there to hear the conversation.” To stoke my own pale preremembered fires I turn not to the fathomless spiritual sustenance potentiating within my better half but to that imagined nonfiction figure who began his secular bible-atlas with a birth, who lovingly introduced his main female character through an exuberantly searching and extravagantly compassionate scene of her masturbating, and who left us with the image of an elderly couple’s slow spindrift sleepward as the narrator innocently wondered, as if it were the most ordinary thing for paired humans to do, “Would they make love?”
I am not from your future, James Mayn. Nor am I from any putative 18th century. I cannot see beyond obstacles which I myself create. Until now, whenever I’d de-lurked from my own hermetic orb to join the living, it was to teach a college seminar called “Health in American History.” That marginal nourishing excessively refined niche has been extinguished. I was and am flying blind, armed only with the desiccated fruits of weirdwormhole expertise.
Joan Didion famously wrote that we tell ourselves stories in order to live. But what if she wasn’t merely extolling some comfort that fiction provides the real world? What if she meant that if you’re already dead, fiction is the sole orb within which the last vestige of your living soul might still dwell? I ask because it seems I’ve ceased fantasizing. Nothing concrete, nothing cinematic, aerates my jar-of-musch ambition brain. James Mayn never dreamed. Tom Smith saturated his nightmare direct to accelerating disintegrating slow-mo tape. I do want to publish this prose, yea, map its anti-splash, yay. But that’s an awfully gray colorless wormhole. Within this excessively specific purgavoid that frees and confines, I don’t even know Desire.
If there was one two-word phrase to halo the perfect harmonic colloidal stasis of W & M and Wigmaker, a double-revolver to gemini the vicious noise of angelic resignation toward anything foreseeable which I am breathing at this very moment, that twofer would be
and also, simultaneously
which might, in truth, be the theme, identical.
y. There will come a day. If you’ve floated this far, you already know. But for us others who have already remembered to forget there will still arrive a certain fine day. You’ve already sensed it if you’ve ever really read and increasingly hungered and wondered where and in which specific proses the coastline circumferences might be found. There will dawn a megabright day when you encounter rumblings of its strange dark ever brighter weather. Invisibly stalking the slipstream of Joyce and Proust, post-orbiting Braxtonian densities of Gaddis and Pynchon and whoso else might lurk within that Wagnerian ether, you will, inevitably, catch wind of a talisman. Our Orb will twirl a twilit swirl through which you’ll wile yourself swollen to wend down a canal already prenewed down which nothing less intricate idiosyncratic and intensive will suffice to intuit you’ve already promised yourself that you must plunge into promised choirs of megaphrased words of mysterious substantial substance sung forth as Women and Men.
In my last year as a music student in college, while working on my bachelor’s thesis on Schubert’s chamber music, I remember a moment when, my analysis of the various pieces complete, it occurred to me that the only way I could do justice to the music was to hand in a set of scores (or perhaps recordings) of it. It was not that description and discussion would “betray” the objects of my study (all writing about music falls ludicrously short of its subject), but that in these particular works the formal and stylistic practices I had identified seemed to make no sense except as embodied in the movement of the music being played and heard. Separated from that movement, they threatened to become irrelevant or, worse, a distraction from the truth of the composer’s musical thought—a potential excuse for not listening.
Rereading Women and Men has made me feel the way I did then. Like the best of Schubert, Beethoven, or Haydn, it is a work that aims to make process signify more than it can say. Only when I am following the movement of its sentences do I sense myself close to what it is, to what it’s doing and saying, to what it’s doing and not saying. I want to replace this article with some act like taking a new reader’s hand, leading her or him to the opened book, and sharing our amazement, bewilderment, and delight as we progress from one page to the next, from page 1 to the last.
— oui 4 1, canny wise heartfelt earnest ether-real valedictory coda
O / you / aye
for one already remember
yearned unearthly unearthings
I no longer know
what how why else to sing
Joseph McElroy, Women and Men (Dalkey Archive, 1993 [also Dzanc limited reprint, 2018?] [Knopf, 1987]); William Joy, “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us,” Wired, April 2000, on “gray goo”; Geoff Dyer, Out of Sheer Rage (Picador, 1997); Harry Mathews, “We for One: An Introduction to Joseph McElroy’s Women and Men,” Review of Contemporary Fiction 10 (1990); William Gass, “Introduction” to William Gaddis, The Recognitions (Penguin Classics, 1993 [Harcourt Brace, 1955]); William Carlos Williams, Paterson (Christopher MacGowan, ed.; New Directions, 1992 [1946-1958]); Marion Brown, Sweet Earth Flying (Impulse!, 1974); Harry Partch, Delusion of the Fury (Innova, 1998 [CBS, 1969]); Jonathan Williams, A Palpable Elysium (Godine, 2003); Paul Metcalf, Genoa: A Telling of Wonders (Jargon Society, 1965); Mauricio Kagel, Der Schall (DG, 1968), Acustica (DG, 1971) and Staatstheater (DG, 1971); Arnold Dreyblatt, Propellers in Love (Hat ART, 1988); “he was a Renaissance” is the final line of Guy Davenport’s elegy for Ezra Pound, published in The Geography of the Imagination (Godine, 1981); Tom LeClair, “The Novel as Kaleidoscope,” Washington Post, March 22, 1987; Garth Risk Hallberg, “The Lost Postmodernist: Joseph McElroy,” Los Angeles Times, July 7, 2009; Steven Moore, “Joseph McElroy, Women and Men,” Review of Contemporary Fiction 7 (1987); Kathryn Kramer, “Dr. McElroy, Homeopath: What One Goes to Him For,” Review of Contemporary Fiction 10 (1990); Melvin Kranzberg, “Presidential Address: Kranzberg’s Laws,” Technology and Culture 1986, “invention is the mother of necessity”; J.S. Bach, The Goldberg Variations (Gould; CBS, 1955); Bob Dylan, Time Out of Mind (Columbia, 1987) and Love and Theft (Columbia, 2001); Keith Rowe / John Tilbury, Duos for Doris (Erstwhile, 2003); Hariprasad Chaurasia, Hari-Krishna: In Praise of Janmashtani (Navras, 1998); Laurie Anderson, Live at Town Hall (Nonesuch, 2001); Anton Bruckner, Ninth Symphony (Furtwängler/BPO; DG, 1994); Anthony Braxton, Willisau (Quartet) 1991 (Hat ART); www.modernlibrary.com/top-100/100-best-novels/; www.goodreads.com/list/show/8551.Radcliffe_s_100_Best_Novels_of_the_20th_Century; thegreatestbooks.org/lists/108 (Le Monde); “What Is the Best Work of American Fiction of the Last 25 Years?” New York Times, May 21, 2006; Toni Morrison, Beloved (Knopf, 1987); Don DeLillo, Underworld (Scribner, 1997); Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian (Random House, 1985); Philip Roth, American Pastoral (Houghton Mifflin, 1997); John Updike, Rabbit at Rest (Knopf, 1990); Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow (Viking, 1973) and Mason & Dixon (Henry Holt, 1997); William Gaddis, J R (Knopf, 1975); Lawrence Buell, The Dream of the Great American Novel (Harvard, 2011); Michael Schmidt, The Novel: A Biography (Belknap, 2014); Joseph McElroy and Harry Mathews, “Should Writing Hurt?” Village Voice, October 22, 2002; Michael Dirda, Bound to Please (Norton, 2004); Norman Mailer, Ancient Evenings (Little, Brown & Co., 1983) and Harlot’s Ghost (Random House, 1991); Harold Brodkey, The Runaway Soul (Perennial, 1991); John Barth, LETTERS (Putnam, 1979); Richard Powers, The Gold Bug Variations (William Morrow, 1991); David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest (Little, Brown & Co., 1996); Gilbert Sorrentino, Mulligan Stew (Grove, 1979); William Gass, The Tunnel (Knopf, 1995); William Gaddis, A Frolic of His Own (Poseidon, 1994); Alexander Theroux, Darconville’s Cat (Doubleday, 1981); D. Keith Mano, Take Five (Dalkey Archive, 1982); Leon Forrest, Divine Days (Norton, 1992); Marguerite Young, Miss MacIntosh, My Darling (Scribner’s, 1965); Leslie Marmon Silko, Almanac of the Dead (Simon & Schuster, 1991); Stephen Dixon, Frog (Owl, 1991); Vanessa Place, La Medusa (FC2, 2008); Evan Dara, The Lost Scrapbook (FC2, 1995); Sergio De La Pava, A Naked Singularity (U. Chicago, 2013 [self-published, 2008]); Joshua Cohen, Witz (Dalkey Archive, 2010); Karen Tei Yamashita, I Hotel (Coffee House, 2010); Edgardo Vega Yunqué, No Matter How Much You Promise to Cook or Pay the Rent You Blew It Cauze Bill Bailey Ain’t Never Coming Home Again (FSG, 2003); Jim Gauer, Novel Explosives (Zerogram, 2016); Paul Auster, 4 3 2 1 (Henry Holt, 2017); Larry Kramer, The American People, Vol. 2: The Brutality of Fact (FSG, 2020); Michael Dirda, “Stylists and Visionaries: 25 Years of American Fiction,” Washington Post, June 1, 1997; spinelessbooks.com/mccaffery/100/; Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward, 2000-1887 (Houghton Mifflin, 1889); www.badgerinternet.com/~bobkat/jest11a.html; Robert Rydell, All the World’s A Fair (U. Chicago, 1987), on Walt stupefied before the Corliss Engine; Lorna Koski, “The Full Harold Bloom,” wwd.com/eye/people/the-full-bloom-3592315/?full=true, HB on Infinite Jest; I quote from three of Harold Bloom’s books: The Western Canon (Harcourt Brace, 1994), Shakespeare and the Invention of the Human (Riverhead, 1999) and Novelists and Novels (2007); Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era (U. California, 1971); Harry Mathews, The Case of the Persevering Maltese (Dalkey Archive, 2003); The William H. Gass Reader (Knopf, 2018); Gilbert Sorrentino, Something Said (North Point, 1984); Susan Howe, The Quarry (New Directions, 2015); Joseph McElroy, “Midcourse Corrections,” Review of Contemporary Fiction 10 (1990); www.dustedmagazine.com/features/73; To Live and Shave in L.A., The Wigmaker in 18th-Century Williamsburg (Menlo Park, 2002); www.npr.org/2017/02/04/513242440/fresh-air-weekend-director-jim-jarmusch-the-salesman-modern-death; Kevin Drumm, Horror of Birth (Chondritic Sound, 2005); Chris Ware, Building Stories (Pantheon, 2012); I.N. Phelps Stokes, The Iconography of Manhattan Island (5 Vols.; R.H. Dodd, 1915-28); Keith Rowe, The Room Extended (Erstwhile, 2016); Whitney Balliett, Collected Works: A Journal of Jazz, 1954-2001 (St. Martin’s, 2002); Max Black, review of The Wigmaker dustedmagazine.com/features/4; Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band, Trout Mask Replica (Straight, 1969); themixtressonline.wordpress.com/the-exchange/mix-archives/august-2007/; Lou Reed, Metal Machine Music (RCA, 1975); web.archive.org/web/20060811225840/http://www.matchlessrecordings.com/amm_review.html; www.tinymixtapes.com/music-review/live-and-shave-la-noon-and-eternity; www.blastitude.com/11/pg4.htm; Ray Brassier, “Genre is Obsolete,” Multitudes 28 (Spring 2007); Simon H. Fell, Composition No. 30: Compilation III (Bruce’s Fingers, 1998); Royal Trux, Twin Infinitives (Drag City, 1990); Iskra 1903, Chapter One (Emanem, 1970-72); Cecil Taylor European Orchestra, Alms/Tiergarten (Spree) (FMP, 1988); Aine O’Dwyer / Graham Lambkin, Green Ways (Erstwhile, 2017); Keith Rowe / Sachiko M / Toshimaru Nakamura / Otomo Yoshihide, ErstLive 005 (Erstwhile, 2004); Ground Zero, Revolutionary Pekinese Opera ver. 1.28 (ReR, 1996); Alvin Curran, Maritime Rites (New World, 2004 [NPR, 1984]); Masayuki Takayanagi, April is the Cruelest Month (April Disc, 1975); John Cage, Roaratorio (Mode, 1979); Destroy All Monsters (Compound Annex, 2009 [various, 1974-76]); nmperign / Jason Lescalleet, Love Me Two Times (Intransitive, 2006); Hugh Kenner, Joyce’s Voices (Dalkey Archive, 1978); en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Hampton_(artist); Langdon Winner, The Whale and the Reactor (U. Chicago, 1986); anon. [Ma[r/c]k North], A Lurker’s Guide to Recorded Sound (2nd edition) (Gruntl’d? Usufruct!, 2026); www.blastitude.com/11/pg5.htm; Kimo Reder, “Whitman’s Metro-Poetic Lettrism: The Mannahatta Skyline as Sentence, Syntax, and Spell” Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 35 (2017); Stephen S. Hall, “Transcendental Meteorology and Umbrella Days: A Fan’s Notes,” Review of Contemporary Fiction 10 (1990); Joan Didion, The White Album (Simon & Schuster, 1979). “Him of The Lands, identical, I sing, along the single thread…,” is a line Whitman “threw away,” a line in which, Davenport claims, “the full timbre of his voice is undiminished.”
- Meaning this: in my desiccated cosmos, could the losses of any other two figures have compared? Who was even still alive back in Oh Eight? Let’s experiment here. Let’s blithely wrench out of context two Titans, roughly analogous to the MK-DFW pair… say, Cecil and Davenport. Okay, now—picture it. Two unsuspecting iconoclasts meeting for the very first time… two lifetimes colliding with mutual delight… the pianist earnestly pressing into the scholar’s hand a warm worn vinyl copy of Delusionof the Fury, complete with the demonstration disc, fissured grooves and all… “you say you’re interested in the archaic”… only if then both gentlesprites suddenly get sprayed in the cross-fire of usury gone tragiviolently wrong, or like if they both careen together off their bikes and so then off the Whitman Bridge itself, casualties in some freak traffic accident, their bodies – perversely now – striking the bow of a hulking ochre barge an instant before pflatting into the sepia panorama. The instantaneous vaporization of two of the most robust varieties of local knowledge ever cultivated. Just a frigid gaping abyss of WTF, when all comedy takes its leave. Well, the rancid afterglow of all that – that’s pretty much what Autumn Oh Eight felt like to me. Editor’s Note to the 2026 Edition: NB, of course, obviously, in reality, non-fic, etc., etc.: Dr. Guy Davenport actually expired in 2005. Lung cancer. 77. This blunt devastating FACT only exacerbates – fucking REDOUBLES – the poignance of the foregoing sentiments, no? Indeed and so now, Palpable Elysium notwithstanding, I fear that there’s a better-than-average chance that the one man who did the most to draw our attention to Genoa’s “miraculous unity and resonating polyphony,” who exalted archaic-syncretic systems as aesthetic exemplars – the earthly being whose apprehension of Partch’s tortuous odyssey we’d now be most anxious to apprehend – one day, far too early, just simply died, without ever having publicly compared the primeval splendors of Delusion to those of, say, Ives’s Fourth Symphony. And so naturally I, playing the role of impotent editor now, can do nothing except blythegape at my frustrations… as they DOUBLE. See Fate; leer rictus. Boom boom bass.
- [anon.], “Contours of Acoustic Arcs,” Radi Os 13 (2012): 250, remix döppelganger to Klaus Schöning, “The Contours of Acoustic Art,” Theatre Journal 43 (1991): 307–24.
- By ’08, both Der Schall and Acustica had been Ubuweb and Avantgarde Project mainstays for several years. They circulated freely (read, at no cost; read, far and wide). Contrast that to the double-vinyl Staatstheater that (still) sporadically lists for three figures on discogs.com. The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency itself can’t pin down that permanently elusive grail. Ed.: The Camden-based label Gruntled? Usufruct! re-issued Mauricio Kagel’s Complete Deutsche Grammophon Recordings in 2021. Five CDs in a translucent plastic cube about as clearly-collectible-even-coffee-tablish-if-you’d-prefer-and-yet-somehow-still-slyly-subversive as you’d expect. All duly chronicled in the entry for State 26.
- Alma mater of my colloidal chemist grandfather (B.S., ca. 1937) and of Joseph McElroy (Ph.D., 1961), who actually taught English at Queens College for decades; yes, random aspiring middle-class students – me in another life – could have had him. Also: never the first thing people think of when they hear “Manhattan.” Yet somehow it keeps breathing in place. Abiding sweat lodge of inquired connections along imagined coastlines ether-real and future-reel, of nourished eons converting lattice-light within bodies. No metaphor master, but… I feel compelled to catapult, How often do you ever hear about McElroy compared to, say, King Pynchon or Queen Morrison? And then what happens to your own neurons when you actually read him?
- Hail Tony Coulter, master surveyor of sounds experimental, for devoting his WKCR New Music slot solely to Kagel – Der Schall as centerpiece – some two weeks after the Argentine ascended. Coulter’s at my personal roundtable of harvestable beyond-Cage sages, Abbey, Prof. Blivins, Boon, Broomer, Cain, Cochrane, Dale, Prof. Daniel, Delaurenti, Deupree, Djill, dt2, fearandpanic, Mr. Goin, Halliday, hatta, [Ed.: Hayao Y. and the Hobgorbler], Howard, MAP (aka herkyjerky), Marley, Medwin, Meyer, Ohms-Pont, Mr. Olewnick, Pan Schau, Pinnell, Pinsent, Pratt, Rosenstein, Toop, and Warburton among the others.
- Davenport also got the MacArthur call. “He was a Renaissance.”
- Some serious listeners don’t make lists. You know how it works. The ones who remind everyone, with Wisdom, “Oh, making a Desert Island List, that’s an exercise in futility.” Or “Happily, in the real world, one needn’t choose between the Late Sonatas and Late Quartets.” I wouldn’t say I resent those people. They’re not my enemies, exactly. But I sure as hell don’t harbor any affection for them. Useless – that’s how I feel about them. They’re of no use to me. They and I inhabit incommensurate orbi of valuing records. On the other hand – happily, in the real orb – there are souls who list and list and list – and share and share and share. It’s a healthy population, bubbling under, bubbling over, o’erflowing the banks, splooged all over the Web. These are my people. Oh yes. Their lists are insta-fodder that lurkers like me can harvest (very selectively, discreetly, dispassionately) and thereby, in some tiny way, immortalize. The more intricate and intensive, the more phonographically diverse, the more fretful and agonized in construction, the more self-consciously self-referential, the more richly annotated the list, the better. Example: Jon Leidecker’s Dusted list (http://www.dustedmagazine.com/features/973). Even though he claims in the eighth entry that he’d “long given up on the concept of having ‘favorite’ records,” the list itself reads like a damn fair Music Primer for the First (or Last) Person on Earth, a nutshell guide for how to begin anew. Even in Dusted’s teeming field – check, for instance, Bhob Rainey’s extolliation (http://www.dustedmagazine.com/features/101) or Ian Nagoski’s (http://www.dustedmagazine.com/features/223) – that one stands out as a minor monument. Another example, even simpler, because strictly speaking it wasn’t even a list at all: When Alan Rich publicly admitted to wrestling with removing the Kleiber Figaro from its permanent DID slot and replacing it with the brand-new Jacobs – http://www.laweekly.com/2004-09-02/stage/the-marriage-made-in-heaven/ – well, that’s a pretty compelling recommendation; that’s the kind of decisive razor that can shave off hours of lurking and, thus, afford you time for real living (and lurking). And then there are those byzantine classics marked by another order of ambition altogether, those fanatical phantasies fatalistically pentangled by the 18th-C Williamsburg wigmakers of our time, the Web’s own Stone Tablets that you print out and, like a flash-archivist, stash permanently in your wallet, if for no other reason to ensure their surviving the Web’s future annihilation, to act as necessary incubators so that La Civilisation in which we all so blithely live and shave and slave can one fine day be, ab ovo, rebuilt. Like thisguy’s little nest-egg: https://groups.google.com/forum/?fromgroups#!topic/rec.music.classical/VbrqYHCEbnk. Also rather hard-boiled: http://www.mustrad.org.uk/articles/ten.htm. “& lest we forget”: that perennial nominee for the Greatest Essay Ever Penned (“Eggs! Mostly…”): http://www.furia.com/page.cgi?type=twas&id=twas0163#entry1. Oh yeah. These are the cries of my people. They’re never going to share the same physical spaces, quirks of attention, ways to listen, canons of excellence… They’re never going to know who I am. BUT: Make no mistake. These are my people. All of them. They’re in my tribe. We’re technospiritual kin.
- No other luxury good even begins to compare to records’ cost/benefit ratio. Pick your sublimely ridiculous bourgeois poison: financial portfolios, automotive excrescences, decorative arts, vintage champagnes, gem mint ’50 Bowmans… Books? Well, in a letter to John Adams, penned twelve years (plus one month) before both men’s deaths on the 50th anniversary of the Republic’s birth, Thomas Alva Jefferson did declare, “I cannot live without books.” Invention is indeed the mother of necessity, Dr. Kranzberg. But we the people, all of us children of another of the Fall Line’s daydreamers – another pioneering Thomas Alva, in fact: Edison – would quite properly maintain that even those venerated objects must now share their Rushmore-ish ranking with records.
- Manifestly not the case for other memorable experiences: concerts, weddings, corporate lunches gone awesomely awry, Game Sevens, nostalgia in Rittenhouse Square, snowball fights in glittering wonderlands, terrorist attacks, exquisite meals, spectacular sunsets, epic social gatherings, chemical-fueled highs, transportive sex, transcendental epiphanies… That stuff’s fleeting. Now compare that (bittersweet, endemic-to-life’s-meaning) fact to this mundane/amazing material one: records let us re-createexperience – at will. Even if the music “sounds different” to us – even if new differences arise every single time we play the record (as, of course, they must) — we know that the sounds preserved in the artifact itself have not changed, and so we also know that wehave. Records are thus ironically – significantly – mute. They’re baselines: immutable thrummings in a meganovel, impassive monoliths against which we privately measure our own infinitely wayward self-developments.
- Here’s the kind of nugget someone utters every day: “So next I have to include the Gould Goldbergs. The first one, from ’55. For all its scintillating energies… all its interlocking arcs… all the stories still to be discovered… all in one silver disc. When it ends it just begs to be played to again. Talk about cyclical obsessive listening.” Here’s something no one ever says: “You know what, for my sixth slot, I’m gonna go with the GRAND COULEE DAM. Can you imagine what awaits me on my island… Studying all those torsion vectors! all those energy flows through its silver turbines! all the incredible stories told by every single one of its mute interlocking bricks!! Now that’s farking inexhaustible. It’ll perfectly complement my other six-pack choices. J.J. Rousseau’s Sleeping Gypsy. My daughter, ca. 2009. Hydrangeas that are somehow simultaneously – seriously – sea-green, sky-blue, and lavender. Frank Lloyd Wrong’s Falling Water. And the Schubert Theater for that one magical night, December 31, 1999.”
- Sounds suspiciously like “immutable mobiles”? Voilà! Another formidable candidate for the All-Time Essay Champ: Bruno Latour, “Visualization and Cognition: Thinking with Eyes and Hands,” in Henrika Kuklick and Elizabeth Long (eds.), Knowledge and Society: Studies in the Sociology of Culture Past and Present 6 (1986): 1-40.
- Think of your most cherished records – just the first few that come to mind – quick! Now zoom in on one of those sacred talismans. 1.) You probably didn’t pay hundreds of dollars for it – but would you do so, now, if it would cost that much to hear that music ever again? 2.) If other people unfortunately happen to be present while you listen to it, does the very thought of having to explain the record’s logic and virtues – in real time – to those people – make you briefly Despair for Humanity? 3.) Have the record’s unique merits – merits that perhaps only you truly appreciate – only grown (steadily; in complexity) over the years? Yes, yes, and yes; virtually free; solitary; eternal. Rite hear. Boom boom bass.
- “So-and-so’s new one”: just so – and so tedious. It first raised its profile for me back in my undergrad days at TAJU. I don’t even know which record it was that got half the English Dept so excited. Time Out of Mind? Love and Theft? Whatever, my little mindsponge sopped it up and neither forgot nor forgave: Even the Wise fall prey to that shit.
- That Capital G. Yes: Romantic heroes. You still believe? But REALLY: >>The main text here should read “Genius — or Serendipity — or extremely Hard Work.” Were Mark Hollis or Tom Smith – just two examples – “truly geniuses”? Who cares??? They each had a vision; it took tons of studio time and labor to realize those visions, to accord them any kind of justice; the recorded results – States 44 and 47 – 1.) amount to glorious crystallizations of unique aesthetics made possible only by some very specific studio praxis necessary to create the aesthetics in the first place; and 2.) incidentally, practically by default, blur any invented/discovered Talent/Genius boundaries beyond any recognition whatsoever.<< But what kind of main-text line would that’ve made for? Clarionize the climactic empyrean punch of “Genius”; honor “Hard Work” in the footnotes’ loessy fundament.
- “And which records would those be, O Wise One?” One answer – too glib: >>Oh, idk… maybe the following FIFTY chotwangled in this guide??<< Alt answer – mayyyybe just glib enough: >>Hey, I never said I was wise. I’m the least wise record-collector out there. I’m naïve, feckless, reckless; my habits and tastes are incorrigible; part of this mission’s whole appeal was that it was always doomed to impossibility. No, I only said that I want & worship records that are wise.<< Like these, perhaps: 1.) Pianist John Tilbury’s mother Doris died two days before he was scheduled to record, for the first time, a duo with table-top guitarist Keith Rowe, with whom he’d been friends for decades. The recording session went ahead, and three long-form improvisations were issued as a double-CD called Duos for Doris. You don’t have to be familiar with the circumstances of its making to sense that that record captures something uniquely intimate, unrepeatedly visceral, a genuine catharsis in sound. Duos for Doris: a record with a pretty damn unassailable Reason to Exist. [Ed.: And yet it didn’t make the original ALG list. Talk about naïveté: none of these four examples did. Canal water through ancient locks, now; they’re all in full flow here in the current edition, so loose the sluice and let the prose torrents pour forth… This one’s Nemesis 29. Btw fwiw imo it’s just about the crown jewel in the Erstwhile catalog. (Just about… not quite… not yet. See State 49...)] 2.) One night each year on the outdoor patio of his Bombay home, the bamboo-flutist Hariprasad Chaurasia used to perform amidst family and friends an all-night “garland of ragas” to commemorate the birth of Krishna, the flute-playing god. In 1998 the record label Navras taped one such private celebration and released a 3-CD excerpt, lovely ambient washes (chatter, airplanes, brief rains (?)) and all. Every time you step back and think about what exactly you’re listening to, you appreciate anew how every moment of that recording is justified by its own Reason to Exist. [Ed: Honey 49.] 3.) Laurie Anderson’s song-sketches try to capture how it feels to be alive – what living thru bewindering sociotechnical change is all about – in the good old USA. Who better to hold court at NYC’s Town Hall a week after 9/11? “Here come the planes… They’re American planes…” A concert uniquely of/for its occasion; a record with a Reason to Exist. [Ed: Gemini 33.] 4.) Sonata X; Trio Y; the forms already given; another go-round; music to please patrons and dancers… So many classical compositions lack a compelling reason to exist. But several certainly do not. Like Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony. Written with a shaky hand, the man weakened by illness but fortified by his intense faith, three searching movements (instead of the usual four – b/c of that illness), the cathedral in sound Bruckner knew would be his last: there’s a work with a Reason to Exist. Visionary conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, a conduit whose (multiple, diverse) conjurings of Beethoven, Wagner, and Brahms still enthrall his cultists, counted Bruckner’s Ninth as one of his personal holies – indeed, as possibly the single work he revered most. He recorded it only once: in 1944 with the BPO in Berlin, a radio broadcast of white-knuckle woe as the world was literally falling to pieces all around them, a veritable “primary experience” of sonic space-time. There’s some excavated shellac with a terribly urgent Reason to Exist. [Ed: Milk 10.]
- IOW, Gravity’s Rainbow and Mason & Dixon – towering tragedy, sublime comedy – and J R and The Recognitions – the Vernacular of the Folk and classical arcana, each sublimated to grandeur.
- Everything you need to know about the saint in one handy/heady volume: Land Use and Its Patterns in the United States, Agricultural Handbook No. 153, USDA, 1959. Ed.: So… all those RECORDS whose inexhaustible pleasures I so assiduously extolled some thirteen years ago? Yeah, THEY — of course! — didn’t make any dents in You People’s Imagination. At all. Instead, my original List of Fifty (apparently) got simply, quietly, duly absorbed into the invisible republic’s cyberplasm. You can check out an itemized version on RYM; it’s got its own Wikipedia stub; some tepid chatter and shrugs on relevant fora along the lines of “who is this guy, yeah I’ve got favorites too”… That’s it. The LoC’s National Recordings Registry has remained blissfully ignorant of the fruits of my painstaking labors; no one’s tracked me down for any follow-up interviews; the Alphadubs, Lescalleet and Rossetto, didn’t become overnight celebrities… NOTHING HAPPENED, basically. But Marschner??? Of all the possible nuggets that could’ve been plucked from ALG to become quasi-household names, people settled upon thatone? Original copies of Handbook153 are selling for four figures on Amazon? (furreal?) A blogger devoted to lampooning “Bureau of Agricultural Economics” t-shirt wearers on Ivy League campuses is figuring out how best to capitalize upon her cult following?? (furfake?) Trebeck’s holo is chirping, “From 1945 to 1950 this Austrian emigrant used thousands of aerial photographs to piece together the first authoritative medium-scale map of American land uses,” and the contestant’s primly smirking, “Who was Francis Marschner”… w/o missing a beat… on “College Week”??? (furwtf?) Well, the Artist can’t control the Reception of his Work entirely, I guess – or at all. And I did write in the 2013 edition that I welcomed Unintended Consequences, so… But WAIT! Here’s one way I can maybe reclaim some of FJM’s multifarious meanings, make them relevant to the records again. >>Recall the two major headwaters, the two main currents that flowed into American Geography’s Golden Age of Great Synthesizers. There was that mighty Germanic River: Fenneman, Zon, Shantz, Sauer, Marbut, Lobeck, culminating magnificently in Marschner… and its parallel Anglo Stream: Powell, Gannett, Davis, Bowman, Smith, sort-of-culminating in Baker and/or Colby and/or Hartshorne. Now take this new, significantly expanded edition of ALG. It’s still an American document, I maintain, still an American kind of synthesis. Yet of all the musicians included in its pages, who now can lay claim to the greatest number of different CDs upon which his/her music appears? You might think it would actually, you know, be an American. Duke or Miles… right? Okay, well, if not them, then a good bet would be the sublime Morty, whose uniquely hypnotic “Turkish carpets” each require beatific hours to “disorient the memory”…? Eric, then, surely; you already know that his “voice” – viscerally incisive, ecstatically pure, inimitably kinetic; a methamphetamined dolphin which just slices/slurs/romps right through a double handful of classic 1960-64 LPs like a COMET – will probably always be this writer’s favorite in all of music. No?? Okay… so maybe your author’s finally learned to appreciate Rock and, like, SONGS over the last dozen or years or so, so (if so) sojourning Robert Z! But no. None of the above. Instead, with 16 CDs apiece, it’s a tie between Wagner and Rowe: a German and a Brit.<<