Behind Closed Doors

Memo in the inbox at
opening time today. From
Divisional Headquarters, Department
of Intimate Affairs: There will
no longer be any
fucking between the husband
and the wife. Forms have been
submitted, a closed-door
hearing has been held (to preserve
the privacy of all involved),
and the decision has been
reached. What little has been
leaked and may be said with
any degree of certainty is
inconsistent and controversial.
The wife waved her arm and said,
“Look at him—those wrinkles,
those teeth—and he smells of
cheese.” The husband clutched
his hat and said, “It’s true that
I am flatulent and sniffle
and often scratch myself—
frankly, I wouldn’t want to
be mounted by such a one as me,
either.” The husband had a way
with words. The gavel sounded
and the matter was considered
settled. Coffee-flavored kisses
were still to be exchanged
on an ad hoc basis.

Don’t touch that!

“The old God, all ‘spirit,’ all high priest, all perfection, promenades in his garden: but he is bored.  Against boredom the gods themselves fight in vain.  What does he do?  He invents man—man is entertaining….  But behold, man too is bored.  God’s sympathy with the only kind of distress found in every Paradise knows no bounds: he forthwith creates other animals.  God’s first blunder: man did not find the animals entertaining—he dominated them, he did not even want to be an ‘animal.’—Consequently God created woman.  And then indeed there was an end to boredom—but also to something else!  Woman was God’s second blunder.—‘Woman is in her essence serpent, Heva’—every priest knows that; ‘every evil comes into the world through woman’—every priest knows that likewise.  ‘Consequently, science too comes into the world through her’….  Only through woman did man learn to taste the tree of knowledge.—What had happened?  A mortal terror seized on the old God.  Man himself had become God’s greatest blunder; God had created for himself a rival, science makes equal to God—it is all over with priests and gods if man becomes scientific!—Moral: science is the forbidden in itself—it alone is forbidden.  Science is the first sin, the germ of all sins, original sin.  This alone constitutes morality.—‘Thou shalt not know’—the rest follows.” — Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ (trans. Hollingdale; emphases and ellipses in original)

My family fears for my soul when I post such quotes as this

“The great lie of personal immortality destroys all rationality, all naturalness of instinct—all that is salutary, all that is life-furthering, all that holds a guarantee of the future in the instincts henceforth excites mistrust.  So to live that there is no longer any meaning in living: that now becomes the meaning of life….  What is the point of public spirit, what is the point of gratitude for one’s descent and one’s forefathers, what is the point of co-operation, trust, of furthering and keeping in view the general welfare?…  So many ‘temptations,’ so many diversions from the ‘right road’—‘one thing is needful’….  That, as an ‘immortal soul,’ everybody is equal to everybody else, that in the totality of beings the ‘salvation’ of every single one is permitted to claim to be of everlasting moment, that little bigots and three-quarters madmen are permitted to imagine that for their sakes the laws of nature are continually being broken—such a raising of every sort of egoism to infinity, to impudence, cannot be branded with sufficient contempt.” — Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ (trans. Hollingdale; emphases and ellipses in original)

Son of a preacher-man

“Even with the most modest claim to integrity one must know today that a theologian, a priest, a pope does not merely err in every sentence he speaks, he lies—that he is no longer free to lie ‘innocently,’ out of ‘ignorance.’  The priest knows as well as anyone that there is no longer any ‘God,’ any ‘sinner,’ any ‘redeemer’—that ‘free will,’ ‘moral world-order’ are lies—intellectual seriousness, the profound self-overcoming of the intellect, no longer permits anyone not to know about these things….  All the concepts of the Church are recognized for what they are: the most malicious false-coinage there is for the purpose of disvaluing nature and natural values; the priest himself is recognized for what he is: the most dangerous kind of parasite, the actual poison-spider of life….  We know, our conscience knows today—what those sinister inventions of priest and Church are worth, what end they serve, with which that state of human self-violation has brought about which is capable of exciting disgust at the sight of mankind—the concepts ‘Beyond,’ ‘Last Judgement,’ ‘immortality of the soul,’ the ‘soul’ itself: they are instruments of torture, they are forms of systematic cruelty by virtue of which the priest has become master, stays master….  Everyone knows this: and everyone none the less remains unchanged.  Where have the last feelings of decency and self-respect gone when even our statesmen, in other ways very unprejudiced kinds of men and practical anti-Christians through and through, still call themselves Christians today and go to Communion?” — Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ (trans. Hollingdale; emphases and ellipses in original)

For instance, education

“The entire West has lost those instincts out of which institutions grow, out of which the future grows: perhaps nothing goes so much against the grain of its ‘modern spirit’ as this.  One lives for today, one lives very fast—one lives very irresponsibly: it is precisely this which one calls ‘freedom’.  That which makes institutions institutions is despised, hated, rejected: whenever the word ‘authority’ is so much as heard one believes oneself in danger of a new slavery.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols (trans. Hollingdale; emphases in original)

Spit

High over the lake
on autumn afternoons
gulls flutter
flutter?
They fly in lackadaisical
manner, not in any
formations or groups

The angels this afternoon
have been having a party
and threw confetti

Gulls flutter and soar
and glide above the lake
sidelighted by the afternoon
sun, lifted by the breeze

What do angels eat
at their gatherings?
What do they barbecue?
What do they roast
on a spit?

Nothing to stick your tongue out at

“The struggle against purpose in art is always a struggle against the moralizing tendency in art, against the subordination of art to morality.  L’art pour l’art means : ‘the devil take morality!’—But this very hostility betrays that moral prejudice is still dominant.  When one has excluded from art the purpose of moral preaching and human improvement it by no means follows that art is completely purposeless, goalless, meaningless, in short l’art pour l’art—a snake biting its own tail.  ‘Rather no purpose at all than a moral purpose!’—thus speaks mere passion.  A psychologist asks on the other hand: what does all art do? does it not praise? does it not glorify? does it not select? does it not highlight?  By doing all this it strengthens or weakens certain valuations.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols (trans. Hollingdale; emphases in original)

Dancing on the ceiling

“No one can spend more than he has—that is true of individuals, it is also true of nations.  If one spends oneself on power, grand politics, economic affairs, world commerce, parliamentary institutions, military interests—if one expends in this direction the quantum of reason, seriousness, will, self-overcoming that one is, then there will be a shortage in the other direction.  Culture and the state—one should not deceive oneself over this—are antagonists: the ‘cultural state’ is merely a modern idea.  The one lives off the other, the one thrives at the expense of the other.  All great cultural epochs are epochs of political decline: that which is great in the cultural sense has been unpolitical, even anti-political.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols (trans. Hollingdale; emphasis in original)

The City Has Flocks

The city has flocks
of big
fat
finches

A factory on the far South Side
that turns out Scottie-dogs

dog after dog after dog

The forges blaze
through the night

Fresh-cast dogs clatter
onto the factory floor

Released into the parks
by vested City workers
the Scottie-dogs chase
finches pecking in the grass

The big fat finches fly away
The Scottie-dogs prance about
they howl and yelp

Whistle while you work, that’s an order

“To stay cheerful when involved in a gloomy and exceedingly responsible business is no inconsiderable art: yet what could be more necessary than cheerfulness? Nothing succeeds in which high spirits play no part. Only excess of strength is proof of strength.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols (trans. Hollingdale)

Controlled Access

The police
knocked on my door last night.

I was pleased
they weren’t looking for me.

The doorbell rang and I got up
and looked through the peephole.
I told my wife, It’s the cops.

I opened the door and they
identified themselves. Hello, we’re
Chicago Police. They wore uniforms,
badges, guns, and bulletproof vests.
They had radios and batons and other
gadgets. Yes, I can tell, I said.
How can I help you?

They told me how. They asked
me what I knew about
the neighbor who lives below.
I told them what I knew,
which was nothing and a little more.

They asked me about
the neighbors next door.
I told them what I knew,
which was nothing and a little more.

They asked me about
the neighbors upstairs.
I told them what I knew,
which was nothing and a little more.

They thanked me for
my time and left. I watched
them out the window as they
walked away from the building.
I forgot to ask them, Hey, guys,
this building is controlled access—
how’d you get in here?
My wife said she thought
they may have had a passkey.
Maybe all the cops have
a passkey to all the buildings,
she said. Makes it easier.

Eternal verities

“Unfortunately, we are bound up in ourselves, and we really can only perceive through our own eyes and our own heart, and what we see is us. We think we’re exploring exterior worlds, but we’re not, so undoubtedly it’s the same consciousness, the same voice. But the intellectual excitement is when you tap into the idiosyncratic, eccentric selfness that you know is time-bound and experience-bound—and I do believe this—that you’re tapping into the knowledge of the species. The fact is that you can find your truth, but it’s also the truth about human nature.” — Diane Williams (interview with John O’Brien, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Fall 2003, Vol. 23.3)

It’s non-negotiable

“It seems like one of the things really great fiction-writers do—from Carver to Chekhov to Flannery O’Connor, or like the Tolstoy of ‘The Death of Ivan Ilych’ or the Pynchon of ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’—is ‘give’ the reader something. The reader walks away from the real art heavier than she came into it. Fuller. All the attention and engagement and work you need to get from the reader can’t be for your benefit; it’s got to be for hers. What’s poisonous about the cultural environment today is that it makes this so scary to try to carry out. Really good work probably comes out of a willingness to disclose yourself, open yourself up in spiritual and emotional ways that risk making you really feel something. To be willing to sort of die in order to move the reader, somehow.” — David Foster Wallace (interview with Larry McCaffery in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Summer 1993, Vol. 13.2)

Intruder

Things happened at night and
I don’t remember which of them
was real and was happening
outside my head. Someone was
trying to break in through
the back windows or the front
door. I got up in the dark
and went to my closet and pulled
my rifle out and walked down
the hallway in the dark and hoped
I didn’t shoot someone I wasn’t
supposed to shoot. I woke up with
my wife pounding her fists
against my chest and saying, No,
I won’t! No! And I grabbed
her wrists and she woke up.

Submitting to the bondage of the word

“The really tricky discipline to writing is trying to play without getting overcome by insecurity or vanity or ego. Showing the reader that you’re smart or funny or talented or whatever, trying to be liked, integrity issues aside, this stuff just doesn’t have enough motivational calories in it to carry you over the long haul. You’ve got to discipline yourself to talk out of the part of you that loves the thing, loves what you’re working on. Maybe just plain loves.” — David Foster Wallace (interview with Larry McCaffery in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Summer 1993, Vol. 13.2)

Fire Sale

You don’t have
what they want to buy.

You’re reading Thomas Aquinas
on the corporeality
of angels, spiritual substance
made manifest through form,
and not even you
will buy that.

It goes in the back room,
with the boxes of used
quill pens, and the jars
of cold and hardened
phlogiston.

Crowded back there.
Arson might be
the answer, followed by
a fire sale.

Hot embers for
a quarter, bowls
of ashes at
a dime a pound.

So, occupy this if you will

“What’s been passed down from the postmodern heyday is sarcasm, cynicism, a manic ennui, suspicion of all authority, suspicion of all constraints on conduct, and a terrible penchant for ironic diagnosis of unpleasantness instead of an ambition not just to diagnose and ridicule but to redeem. You’ve got to understand that this stuff has permeated the culture. It’s become our language; we’re so in it we don’t even see that it’s one perspective, one among many possible ways of seeing. Postmodern irony’s become our environment.” — David Foster Wallace (interview with Larry McCaffery in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Summer 1993, Vol. 13.2)

When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city tremble

“Rock music itself bores me, usually. The phenomenon of rock interests me, though, because its birth was part of the rise of popular media, which completely changed the ways the U.S. was unified and split. The mass media unified the country geographically for pretty much the first time. Rock helped change the fundamental splits in the U.S. from geographical splits to generational ones. Very few people I talk to understand what ‘generation gap’’s implications really were. Kids loved rock partly because their parents didn’t, and obversely. In a mass mediated nation, it’s no longer North vs. South. It’s under-thirty vs. over thirty. I don’t think you can understand the sixties and Vietnam and love ins and LSD and the whole era of patricidal rebellion that helped inspire early postmodern fiction’s whole ‘We’re-going-to-trash-your-Beaver Cleaver-plasticized-G.O.P.-image-of-life-in-America’ attitude without understanding rock ‘n roll. Because rock was and is all about busting loose, exceeding limits, and limits are usually set by parents, ancestors, older authorities.” — David Foster Wallace (interview with Larry McCaffery in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Summer 1993, Vol. 13.2)

The Church of Edmund

Edmund sat on the corner in front of the Fourth
Presbyterian Church. He rattled a battered
McDonald’s cup at passersby, Excuse me, could you
help me get a shower? Sir? Lady?

His eyes were tired, very tired. No one
stopped, no one dropped anything into
his cup. Someone had earlier,
I looked into the cup and there were
a few pennies, at least one nickel, and maybe
a dime. No quarters had been given that I saw.

I passed by him twice. I had other
business at the church. During
a break, I took a walk around
the block and saw Edmund a second time. I sat
down next to him and introduced
myself. It was a warm September
evening and the sun was still up,
though low and soon to set. I
asked him his name, he told me he
was Edmund. I shook his hand.

Before I go any further with
this—what is this? What do I
think I’m doing here? What did I
think I was doing when I sat down
on the curbing next to Edmund on
the corner in front of the Fourth
Presbyterian Church?

He told me he was homeless. He said
he’d been hit on the head with
a baseball bat, Here, he said, and he
showed me the place on the back
of his head. He said he’d been
a dealer, cocaine and heroin, and he’d
done time. I asked him if he was
clean and he said, Yes, I never used,
man, you can’t use it and sell it.
He said, I flat-lined for ninety-six
seconds, now I’m homeless and need a shower
and a place to sleep for the night.

I don’t know what I was
doing, I don’t know why I sat beside
him and talked with him, I’m no
saint, I’m not saving any part
of this world. I don’t know why
I’m writing this except writing stuff like
this is part of what I do. I gave Edmund
a twenty-dollar bill and told him, God
bless, and shook his hand again,
and don’t want you for a moment
to think I’m a good person for it,
I’m sitting here in this church at
a meeting of well-housed, well-fed people,
one of whom is me, and as far as I know,
Edmund is still sitting on the corner shaking
his McDonald’s cup, and even if he’s not and
that twenty helped him off the street tonight,
he’s almost certain to be back on the corner,
some corner, come tomorrow and the days after that.

Her Tells

When she stops talk
ing in the mid
dle of a sentence or even
of a
word
and looks at her plate
or the table
top or her glass or
a fork or who can
tell—
it means she remembers what was said.

When she sits with
her hand in her
lap and picks at
her cuticles—
it means she prefers to be the first to draw
the blood through fresh cuts, thank you.

When she holds her hands
lightly clasped together in front
of her chest as if
in prayer or supplication—
it means she remembers begging for it to stop.

When her fingers
curl into claws—
it means they remember trying to defend her.

When she sits and stares
at the wall or out
the window or out to sea at
the farthest point of nothing—
it means everything she sees is inside.

When she screams it means it’s
here again.

Watch yourself!

“Once the first-person pronoun creeps into your agenda you’re dead, art-wise. That’s why fiction-writing’s lonely in a way most people misunderstand. It’s yourself you have to be estranged from, really, to work.” — David Foster Wallace (interview with Larry McCaffery in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Summer 1993, Vol. 13.2)

Shower Curtain

Lunch is a plastic cup of instant noodles.
Pour boiling water in the cup and let it
sit for three minutes. Be careful serving
it to children, it is hot. You can
eat it straight out of the cup.

I am not a child. The cup of instant
noodles is beef flavor and tastes
of salt. Its aroma is that of the vinyl
shower curtain that hangs in my
bathroom. The curtain came with
the apartment and is clean and white.

The cup of instant noodles was
purchased with other such cups as
part of a store of emergency
supplies in event of fire, flood,
earthquake, hurricane, insurrection,
coup d’etat, bridge collapse, shipwreck,
bankruptcy, injury, or disease.

The job is over and the money
is gone. The emergency is now.
The ship that was expected to arrive
in port today is gone, the news
just in of its loss, run aground
and broken on a distant reef.
The cargo was uninsured.

Crank-turners on the split shift

“When you talk about Nabokov and Coover, you’re talking about real geniuses, the writers who weathered real shock and invented this stuff in contemporary fiction. But after the pioneers always come the crank turners, the little gray people who take the machines others have built and just turn the crank, and little pellets of metafiction come out the other end. The crank-turners capitalize for a while on sheer fashion, and they get their plaudits and grants and buy their IRAs and retire to the Hamptons.” — David Foster Wallace (interview with Larry McCaffery in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Summer 1993, Vol. 13.2)

Chicken Noodle Soup

She knew
right away. He saw
it in the look on her
face. He never knew
how she knew. He rolled
away and said, Sorry.

I can’t
I can’t do this, she said. I can’t
—it will be six weeks before
graduation and I can’t. He told her
whatever she wanted to do,
he would be with her.
They saved their money.

There was no conversation
in the waiting room. He was
the only man. He went out
to the hall and lay
down on the thin carpet, out
of the way. He tried
to get some sleep.
It had been a long night.

She held a piece
of paper in her
hand, said, We need
to get this filled. Outside
the building, she held
a hand out to the wall
and steadied herself and bent
over and threw up. The sky
was overcast, the day warm.

He opened a can
of chicken noodle soup, diluted
it in the pan, heated
and stirred and ladled it into
a bowl. She sat at their
kitchen table and slowly
ate the soup. She said,
Thank you. He said, You’re
welcome. They never spoke
about it again.

And how many pushups can you do?

“Examine all those epochs in a nation’s history when the scholar assumes a prominent position: those are always the crepuscular times of fatigue and decline; the times of reckless health, instinctual security, confidence in the future, are over.  It does not augur well for a culture when the mandarins are in the saddle, any more than does the advent of democracy, of arbitration courts in place of wars, of equal rights for women, of a religion of pity—to mention but a few of the symptoms of declining vitality.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals (trans. Golffing)

The Storm of the Street

There are matters of sidewalk
etiquette that now should be
addressed. Whom to say hello
to and whom not, and principles
of eye contact and gaze aversion.

The skinny old retired grey-haired
Professor of Avuncular Studies,
with his kind and gentle
smile and his friendly good
morning, to him you not only
can return the greeting, you
must. There are few ports
in the storm of the street.

Anyone else who says good
morning or hello, of course you
should return the greeting. If your
intuition tells you to initiate a
greeting, follow it; however, do not
speak to joggers unless spoken
to. They often are winded and are
concentrating on their own selves.

Do not speak to women unless
they address you first. Do not
make eye contact or attempt
to make eye contact unless they
address you first. Do not furtively
glance at their breasts as
they approach. That is a bad
habit and it must stop.

Make way for the cyclists
even when they are cycling down
the sidewalk under the sign
that clearly tells them they are
not to do that and can be
arrested, jailed, fined, and have
their bikes confiscated. They
are young and some of them carry
guns and they will shoot you down.