Or, The Book is the Explanation of the Book
——Recently, while in a maelstrom of doubt, so promisingly cloudy, it occurred to me to associate, almost as if for the hell of it, three heretofore isolated, that is to say hapless, items–each of them going exactly nowhere, alone. The first two items are culled from war torn observation of myself, in returning frequently to a specific reflection, to the point of nausea–as I yet excitedly think to stop a thought by finally mentioning that I have had it with that thought; and the third selected is a shocking new idea, which seems like the opening sally both thematically and narratively in a highly original novel. Two drudgeries and one flamboyance. Before I actually begin, let me explain a little further each of these dynamic components, and rume . . . what’s that word? ruminate, on how such a tripleset might work. –
——-The first item is the now sad, reflex notion that I have turned the corner on my own writing career. That it is somehow futile to produce more books, that I simply can’t create anything in the free spirit of accumulation the way I always used to, but should instead worry about the fate of what I already have done, for at least I have that and if I don’t secure that the whole enterprise is and was to no avail. Horrible on the face of it, I sourly reflect, this seems nearly fatal. It is like I am in a swansong mode and am no longer awaiting a time of great reception into the public I once freely imagined. How could this have happened! For the second item, I’ve got the very peculiar but unavoidable observation of my strangely pathetic attitude toward leaving tips in bars and restaurants. That I actually am so constituted as needing to determine whether the cash tip I proffer is actually noticed, by the bartender. And that I virtually refuse to contribute otherwise, to the general flow of money. Which has got to be funny. Or who knows, maybe it is universal, or the opposite of universal, but which in any case is what I would call: tiny. A very tiny item that seems rather hopeless if pit against mightier items and themes and thoughts of more immediately apparent consequence or potential reader interest. Unless a great comic . . . got ahold of it. –
—–And finally, to make the set of three: the sensational thought, which came (gift-wise) out of nowhere, that there are certain people of whom I don’t have any expectation being dead. That I don’t think of them as ever dying, like I have no image of them being not in the world. Which can lead to a certain drastic deduction. Like to only one thing: a world in which I am dead. It is like, somebody is always on the way out, and I just realized it is me. Which leads, immediately, to the novelistic, construction of that world, a world in which I, though missing from action, still somehow am viewing what happens afterwards. For I refuse to give up, on existence! That world (to continue the construction) of those who are left as people would not be necessarily on a path towards death, for the others, anymore. It would be as if I was the one who had gone through that, after all!, and they would be released into some other permanent life–though, insensibly, they would be in life. Which is the field of all we know and verily fenced in by death–so how explain that? Well, good, much to explain! Profound problems are bound to beset this novel, both philosophical and technical! ——But, meanwhile, after having this thought I will invariably (this is already chronic) begin a catalogue of people I have known who have already died–and there are several. And, freed myself into this unbounded and ill-defined afterlife, I will even think to casually encounter them–why not? The book would have to cover that and all those encounters and what happened, along with the implications . . . Yes–this novel has possibilities, but also the other two themes are promising and pregnant–the one about my literary career having topped out and beginning it’s descent into some kind of looking at what didn’t happen; and the real live actual fact about my attitude toward leaving tips in bars–that surely has narrative possibilities, though I quickly note they are precisely in one of the modes in which I already used to write so spiritedly, in the time before I got the doubt concerned in the other theme. –
—–Well now, I have laid out the three items, explained them in a hasty and rudimentary way, and they are set to work some combinational magic. Pulled from a similar place, I think, if only a desperate moodiness, and yet each are pointed, poignant really, and bound to address radically different areas once I allow them full expansion. Then . . . another thought! Perhaps these three items are umbrellalike subsumed under a compelling desire, a lurking appetite which I have, that nicely may wrap around and transcend the issues involved in each of them. And this puts me on a plane of thought that takes no cognisance whatsoever of my own life, but ignores everything in a transcendent prospect . . . This must be, I see it now, to produce a new book-length poem, written in such resplendent language that nothing but that language would matter. Yes, this is what I must do. And I can immediately see, to initially prepare this work, I can I suppose the third of these items would be the controlling subject. That would surely capture anyone; no doubt I do in fact still retain the impulse to seduce and astonish the world! And the first thought, the one most doggedly everpresent lately, the leveller who follows me like my shadow, would be the base reflection; it will prove to be the insider’s content that will drive the creation of material imagery. This will be according to my long learned habit, become my manifesto!, of including all doubt in the construction, as I study this dilemma that has beset me in the curve of my literary career. For doubt is the living form of imagination. Producing the familiar, in fact disarming, personality of the narrator, as a matter of course! Now we are really getting somewhere. For the second listed item now snaps into focus. It is the location, in a very specific moment of time which he (the narrator) experiences frequently but seems too shy and lacking opportunity to admit is true. –
—–So now you have it: the scene. A person in a bar calculating the tip he is going to leave the bartender; meanwhile, if anyone could know his internal plight, worried about his position in the world as author and authority, considering whether it is possible the world could go on without him in it.
—Upon further consideration, really, I would have to say the tiny specific awareness of myself, as a person who only leaves tips when he knows for certain that he is going to get credit for doing so, who thinks that just leaving money on the bar untraceable to himself is equivalent to throwing it away–well, this must be part of a set of characteristics; surely this must be symptomatic, of a greater pattern of neurosis.. Surely a person like this must exhibit analogous behavior in other situations. ——Standing back, it occurs to me what perhaps the king of this set might be. Of course it must be the chronic, flashing experience of suffering the impression that everybody knows exactly what I am thinking. That they are all (when I am not looking) shaking their heads and wondering how I could remain in the pitiable morass of doubts and unrealized ambitions that, from the looks of it, I evidently do. Of course I speak of “them”, in the plural, but it is always somebody, specific, to whom I attach this ability, to know exactly what is going on. But what is further remarkable, and rather obviously unrealistic, though, is that . . . everybody and anybody fits. Everyone has transcended my condition, and everyone can tell just looking at me what I am thinking. Everyone else, you might say, has grown up; grown out of worrying, precisely, on the issues I seem incapable of escaping. This, to have this as your shadow, must be the high ruler, the king of self-consciousness.
——Of course, that is a feature of self-consciousness certainly in every case deluded. Even if people were capable, or interested in knowing what you were thinking, they wouldn’t be actually busying themselves with finding it out, in any of the situations possibly provided in life. It would take the greatest puppet master to arrange a space, for even two souls blushing at each other. Three idiots in one room might be conceivable, but each would suffer diminished powers of delusion, probably, and any more of this untempered awareness would set a house, or a public place, on fire. Clearly, nothing can get done if everyone is thinking about their own existence. So, the man who, if he is honest with himself, has to admit he wastes maybe, say, seven-eighths of his life in such an invisible stew, has to admit the impossibility anyone else, at any given moment, actually shares his fate by witnessing it. And furthermore, as is implied somewhere in this summary, if they did–they would be sympathetic, not accusing!
—–Nevertheless, this is a glue-like assumption, that is very hard to just eradicate, with the old but unnatural tool of reason. To get rid of.this, if you have it sticking, you need a long hot shower. But then thoughts in the shower are not universally salvific, either–are they? Please understand the difficulty exactly. Getting rid of the automatic idea that other people know what you are thinking is dangerously mixed up with the idea of getting rid of yourself, thinking. For it is not as if the man has concluded anywhere, or has experience of, people knowing his thoughts. It is that he can’t help act as if they do. Knowing it perfectly well does not stop me, from acting as if it were the case! Anyway! Yes, this must be the king of all obscure self-centered reflex thoughts ——Simply a marvel, this instinct for punishment and, at the same time, gratuitous glory. It definitely belongs in the same family as the already laboured over, bar-tip truth; both have the same peculiar feel and pull of the inescapable, and both can survive (I have noticed myself) in the same place at the same time. This is why I have a secondary concern that people I am sitting with at the bar notice the tip I am leaving, and assess that–but enough! These are all–what better word for it?– habits. No matter how much you isolate them and define them, these habits, you walk out the door and conform to their intractable and fatal instructions. You understand, but act that way anyway. So this is of course why the only way to deal with such items (I always call things: items) is to focus on them and dwell on them. For after all, you can’t run, and, furthermore, it isn’t really time you are wasting, but just strength. For how fast is a thought? I’d say, lightening fast, and time for plenty of them in the time it takes for the door to bump you on the way out.
—–You have to admit it, and say, chum, I actually think that the guy across the room who just glanced at me once and went back to staring in his beer, knows the whole story of my life and is totally alert to the next absurd action I am going to take, as I make to try to rattle the chains that bind me in frustration. He can’t believe I keep trying! Coolly acknowledge that people who drive up next to you in their cars and look over, know the whole story of your existence in one glance. And when the light changes, they gun the motor and get out of there with relief and disgust. Maybe a little envy, sure, because they know you are sort of more of a hero then they themselves are– but, overall, glad they are not slated to futilely suffer so. Impossible as these characters are, I don’t get a chance to develop them anyway, because there are so many of them–sitting at sidewalk tables, standing in lines, etc. Forty-five minutes of an excursion out of my house is enough to give me the material, like I have been on a long trip and deserve a respite in order to reorient myself towards normal life. When, upon further consideration, I have to realize–that was normal life!
——Nevertheless, there is no question that I assume other people understand fully my position as a great literary star, an unpublished poet who has written things the world apparently can’t even bear to have opened before their eyes. Truths too difficult and too beautifully rendered, to live with, the way they are living presently–in this world. Even, so it goes, while many can only assume from my apparently cavalier attitude that I am quite content with this position. Smug, even. While others, a few royal others, might feel they understand how it could be that, precisely, great poetry is the one thing that is never, actually, published, for that would require publishers, who are by definition dolts and dunderheads, made to advance the current degraded maxims of easy purchase–of course. These are the ones who say to me, “you will be appreciated after you are dead.” Note well! This casts up a future in which my work is installed in the canons of English literature, taught in colleges, etc. etc. But that future runs smack into conflict, doesn’t it?, with the other future I imagined would happen after I am dead, the one where people who are left alive are relieved entirely of having to die, because future reality is fundamentally changed, of course!, since that seems like the least one can expect from dying, to see things differently–if not the whole truth then at least this one big aspect of the mystery, death to the solo consciousness, addressed. –
—–Now I have a handle on something. In that changed reality there could obviously be no historical reception of my books, and no college girls hugging volumes of poetry with names like The Devil in Close Company, or Storming the Academy, as they stroll through Washington Square Park. In the changed world, when I am not in it but it has gone on without me and my seemingly all important awareness of it (as it stands now), the apparent necessary category of the past will be transparent, evident, involved with the new reality instead of dragged along in life under the shadow of bigger mysteries and threats like death. This is the problem with death, that it interrupts with its pretenses an ongoing investigation! So of course this is at the bottom of my concern, over my fate as a poet. It is like I have to get my poetry into history before history is essentially changed; I can’t leave it to the world in which I am dead, because that isn’t the same world! Now you see my concern! Before I had this strange idea of dying at all, I always thought it was important that I be there to shepard and watch my own writing in the public sphere. This idea that my writing is ahead of the times has always frightened me, and I associate it with other people’s infernal need to put me on a pedestal. And then put that pedestal on a shelf. Particularly, you see, because I don’t believe in . . . pedestals–damn them, and the statues of famous philosophers with their apish grins, staring at me from false history! –
—–Well enough now one can see how the pretensions of a man beset by his own subjectivity might run into conflict with the pretensions of an author of historical stature. Indeed, what could be funnier! One has to ask, is the Descartes who said, “I think therefore I am”, actually the same as the person of Rene Descartes, ordering a croissant and a coffee in a Paris cafe, back then in those historical times? Some men, I have heard, do change history. Abject science, the slave of any current conception of reality, proceeds from philosophy, always has and always will. Which makes me think: if I worry hard enough about my fate as an author, I might . . . digging in, outlast this scene, and furthermore, or nevertheless, save all the tongue-tied, shy folks looking on from the sidelines.