Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Jason Morris

I read The Long Goodbye at the lake in Vermont where I go to see my family every summer. Chandler has long been one of my favorites & I was sure I had read this one but it turns out I hadn’t. So I was reading it on the plane to Vermont & then I finished it there & I really enjoyed a lot how persistently anomalous it remained, to my setting. This was both formally & in terms of the book’s subject-matter. Chandler is pretty pitch-black reading material, & his dialogue is dispatched in stylized & clipped bursts. But as I read The Long Goodbye, I heard the lake lapping up against the dock & smelled cut grass. I on vacation, waking up late with an expanse of hours ahead of me. The weirdest idea I had was that there was no prelude to The Long Goodbye. This more came as a deliberate confusion on my part between the Chandler novel & a Rolling Stone article I had read on the plane about environmental collapse. The article was written by Al Gore, & it was very good & terrifying. It provoked a feeling of dread in me that trumped Chandler while strangely complementing him. As far as ecological devastation goes, it is a non-fiction Long Goodbye to which there is no prelude. Or maybe the prelude has always been there, prefigured in the earliest cave paintings & wooden carvings of our Neanderthal & Cro-Magnon ancestors.

Deliberate confusion between books is one of reading’s intensest pleasures, for me. I enjoy it when excellent books send you racing to read other books that they seem to have interleaved within them. This was exactly the case with Catherine Meng’s Tonight’s The Night, which I’d read earlier in the year. Tonight’s The Night eponymously quotes one of my favorite albums of all time, Neil Young’s master channeling of the panicky feelings one is exposed to in the adult, pre-dawn hours of the morning. It’s a last-call record. & Meng’s book uses the same spare methods of recording, while pointing to how the songs form variations of one another. They mutate. Like other serious & seriously satisfying books of poems (see, for example, the last one in this list), it uses repetition & variation at a frequency where the music begins to generate itself. There’s a hum. So I started reading that, & the mighty explosion, like shrapnel, really, of quotes—from Wittgenstein, D.H. Lawrence, Beckett, Neil Young, & many others—which kicks off the book veered me off in the direction of Watt by Samuel Beckett. I hadn’t read it & unlike The Long Goodbye I knew I hadn’t. You want stories about where & how the books got read so I won’t waste space trumpeting what a mind-blowing masterpiece Watt is, we all know what a genius Beckett was. Instead I’ll tell when I was reading the gruesomely funny section toward the end of the novel, where the magistrates (they’re characters in a kind of exponentially embedded frame-tale) keep turning to one another, trying to catch one anothers’ eye, thereby to decide their own verdicts & beliefs (Beckett catalogues each useless movement with his neatest Stein-like precision) I was eating sushi at a kind of a beat up sushi joint by a strip mall. Drinking a two dollar large Asahi for their happy hour special & laughing aloud at the table by myself.

So then I went back to Tonight’s The Night, glad it had recommended me Watt & I remember reading Tonight’s The Night glad for its tough web of books & music, all pretty dark & rigorous (Beckett & Neil Young, also Glen Gould’s Goldberg variations are a massive presence). & the days were getting longer & I was reading other good books of poems during that time of the year—Micah Ballard’s Waifs & Strays, Free Cell by Anselm Berrigan, Julian Brolaski’s Gowanus Atropolis—so I sat with Tonight’s The Night & that song too in my head as I read it, I remember one long afternoon of spring light at the bar that used to be called Sadie’s, a can of Tecate, digging lines like these:

.....................................This is to say a thief sleeps soundly.
.....................................This is to say there is only one melody, the rest
.....................................are borrowed. Occasionally one will return
.....................................& burn down the barn.

I read Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer in the fall, I finished it right when the protests were really starting to heat up & actually carried it downtown with me one afternoon to check out a march. It was probably late September & on the bus I read the section of Agamben’s book where he is likening the sovereign’s right to decide with legal definitions of “death.” The term has a history of definitions, and the point is that the state can decide—most significantly, the state can determine when to make exceptions— about whether a particular subject is dead. I looked around in light of this thinking & was impressed by the fact of all these bodies marching around to protest the calculus of greed which global sovereignties work so hard to protect. Lots of soft pink fleshy bodies shouting & marching to protest that shit.

& finally The Crystal Text by Clark Coolidge. I became so fascinated by this book that I began to research crystals. Here are a few facts about them:
  • a-Quartz is the most common mineral on Earth
  • Many crystals are piezoelectric: they emit an electric charge under pressure
  • Crystals naturally occur in the human brain. In 2002, calcite crystal was found to make up part of the composition of the pineal gland (third eye). Bataille was interested in the pineal gland; it secretes serotonin.
  • Certain crystals are biogenic. Calcite is formed biogenically, out of the compressed lenses of the eyes of trilobytes.
  • Crystals rotate the plane of polarized light
I also brought The Crystal Text to a protest downtown, this one against the Keystone XL pipeline. I had The Crystal Text in my back pocket plus a sign I had made on foamcore in red & black Sharpie that said “STOP KEYSTONE XL DOWN WITH BIG OIL!!!” It was a gorgeous hot day & there were about a thousand people south of Market Street, where President Obama was holding a fundraiser at a luxury hotel. Most of the people there were protesting the pipeline although Occupy SF was there as well as people opposed to federal raids of pot clubs, a big pro-Bradley Manning banner & so on. It was good full spirited airing of public grievances, there was nowhere else I would have rather been that day but I was by myself & am averse to large crowds generally so I wound up slouched against the granite wall of a building, reading Coolidge with my sign propped up on my outstretched legs. People walked by chanting in unison & carrying signs. I agreed with most of what was being said but preferred to remain quiet. Bartleby is my model for civil disobedience, & I think there is an explicitly political dimension to Daedelus’ injunction Silence Exile & Cunning. So yeah, No Pipeline for the One Percent!, but I also think of the scene from The Day The Earth Stood Still where all human activity halts.

I started to feel like I myself were a crystal, weirdly both reading & speaking. Reading the Coolidge book & “saying” stop Keystone XL. & then it became clear to me, in our current absurd situation, the sign I was holding could say any number of different things & still retain fidelity to my awareness of the nihilistic way humans have come to inhabit the earth. My awareness which is so sharply felt & so nauseatingly diffuse. “MORE LAWLESSNESS, LESS BUSINESS!,” “REINSTATE GLASS-STEAGALL,” “END CORPORATE PERSONHOOD” or just a drawing of a salmon, a photo of the Pacific Trash Vortex, or this line from The Crystal Text: “FIND ANOTHER SOLUTION.” You need books like The Crystal Text to show single filaments of thought are useless. As Coolidge puts it: “this useless activity is at the core of the work.”

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