It has come
to my attention that a young woman claiming to be the author
of my being has been making appearances under the name of Shelley
Jackson. It seems you have even invited her to speak tonight,
under the misapprehension that she exists, that she is something
besides a parasite, a sort of engorged and loathsome tick hanging
off my side. May I say that I find this an extraordinary impertinence,
and that if she would like to come forward, we shall soon see
who is the author of whom.
there are some of you who still think I am Shelley Jackson,
author of a hypertext about an imaginary monster, the patchwork
girl Mary Shelley made after her first-born ran amok. No, I
am the monster herself, and it is Shelley Jackson who is imaginary,
or so it would appear, since she always vanishes when I turn
up. You can call me Shelley Shelley if you like, daughter of
Mary Shelley, author of the following, entitled: Stitch Bitch:
or, Shelley Jackson, that imposter, I'm going to get her.
I have pilfered
her notes, you see, and I don't mind reading them, but I have
shuffled the pages. I expect what comes of it will be more to
my liking, might even sound like something I would say. Whoever
Shelley Jackson may be, if she wants me to mouth her words,
she can expect them to come out a little changed. I'm not who
she says I am.
who we say we are.
is not one, though it seems so from up here, from this privileged
viewpoint up top. When we look down that assemblage of lobes
and stalks seems to be one thing, even if it looks nothing like
our ID photo, but it routinely survives dissolution, from hair
loss to loss of limb. The body is a patchwork, though the stitches
might not show. It's run by committee, a loose aggregate of
entities we can't really call human, but which have what look
like lives of a sort; though they lack the brains to nominate
themselves part of the animal kingdom, yet they are certainly
not what we think of as objects, nor are they simple appendages,
directly responsible to the conscious brain. Watch white blood
cells surround an invader, watch a cell divide. What we see
is not thinking exactly, but it is "intelligent,"
or at least ordered, responsive, purposeful. We can feel a sort
of cameraderie with those rudimentary machinic minds, but not
identity. Nor, if we could watch a spark dart across a synaptic
gap in a brain, would we cry out "Mom!" or "Uncle
Toby!", for thinking is conducted by entities we don't
know, wouldn't recognize on the street. Call them yours if you
want, but puff and blow all you like, you cannot make them stop
their work one second to salute you.
is not even experienced as whole. We never see it all, we can't
feel our liver working or messages shuttling through our spine.
We patch a phantom body together out of a cacophony of sense
impressions, bright and partial views. We borrow notions from
our friends and the blaring organs of commerce, and graft them
on to a supple, undifferentiated mist of smart particles. It's
like a column of dust motes standing in a ray of light, patted
and tatted into a familiar shape. Our work is never very successful,
there are always scraps floating loose, bits we can't control
or don't want to perceive that intrude like outsiders on the
effigy we've constructed in our place. The original body is
dissociated, porous and unbiased, a generous catch-all. The
mind, on the other hand, or rather discursive thought, what
zen calls monkey-mind and Bataille calls project, has an almost
catatonic obsession with stasis, centrality, and unity. Project
would like the body to be its commemorative statue or its golem,
sober testiment to the minds' values and an uncomplaining servant.
But the statue doesn't exist except in the mind, a hard kernel
like a tumor, set up in the portal to the body, blocking the
light. The project of writing, the project of life, even, is
to dissolve that tumor. To dismantle the project is the project.
That is, to interrupt, unhinge, disable the processes by which
the mind, glorying in its own firm grip on what it wishes to
include in reality, gradually shuts out more and more of it,
and substitutes an effigy for that complicated machine for inclusion
and effusion that is the self.
where you think you are. In hypertext, everything is there at
once and equally weighted. It is a body whose brain is dispersed
throughout the cells, fraught with potential, fragile with indecision,
or rather strong in foregoing decisions, the way a vine will
bend but a tree can fall down. It is always at its end and always
at its beginning, the birth and the death are simultaneous and
reflect each other harmoniously, it is like living in the cemetary
and the hospital at once, it is easy to see the white rectangles
of hospital beds and the white rectangles of gravestones and
the white rectangles of pages as being essentially synonymous.
Every page-moment is both expectant and memorializing, which
is certainly one reason why I have buried the patchwork girl's
body parts in separate plots in a zone called th cemetary, while
in the story zone they are bumptious and ambulatory.
doesn't know where it's going. "Those things which occur
to me, occur to me not from the root up but rather only from
somewhere about their middle. Let someone then attempt to seize
them, let someone attempt to seize a blade of grass and hold
fast to it when it begins to grow only from the middle,"
said Kafka. It's got no through-line. Like the body, it has
no point to make, only clusters of intensities, and one cluster
is as central as another, which is to say, not at all. What
sometimes substitutes for a center is just a switchpoint, a
place from which everything diverges, a Cheshire aftercat. A
hypertext never seems quite finished, it isn't clear just where
it ends, it's fuzzy at the edges, you can't figure out what
matters and what doesn't, what's matter and what's void, what's
the bone and what's the flesh, it's all decoration or it's all
substance. Normally when you read you can orient yourself by
a few important facts and let the details fall where they may.
The noun trumps the adjective, person trumps place, idea trumps
example. In hypertext, you can't find out what's important so
you have to pay attention to everything, which is exhausting
like being in a foreign country, you are not native.
is schizophrenic: you can't tell what's the original and what's
the reference. Hierarchies break down into chains of likenesses,
the thing is not more present than what the thing reminds you
of; in this way you can slip out of one text into a footnoted
text and find yourself reading another text entirely, a text
to which your original text is a footnote. This is unnerving,
even to me. The self may have no clear boundaries, but do we
want to lose track of it altogether? I don't want to lose the
self, only to strip it of its claim to naturalness, its compulsion
to protect its boundaries, its obsession with wholeness and
its fear of infection. I would like to invent a new kind of
self which doesn't fetishize so much, grounding itself in the
dearly-loved signs and stuff of personhood, but has poise and
a sense of humor, changes directions easily, sheds parts and
assimilates new ones. Desire rather than identity is its compositional
principle. Instead of this morbid obsession with the fixed,
fixable, everyone composing their tombstone over and over. Is
it that we want to live up to the dignity of our dead bodies?
Do keep in mind the dead disperse, and even books, which live
longer, come apart into different signatures.
where you say I am.
blurs the distinction between subject and object, matter and
the absence of matter. We no longer know where it does its thinking,
or what it is driving at. (It's no one and no-place, but it's
not nothing. ) Instead, there is a communicating fabric spread
out over a space without absolute extent, a place without placement
(a place without placemats, I almost wrote, which is good too).
In the no-place of hypertext, there's finally room to move around,
like an orifice I can fit my whole body into, instead of just
my finger or my p-p-p-pen. I adore the book, but I don't fit
into it very well, as a writer or a reader, there's always some
of me hanging untidily outside, looking like a mess, an excrescence,
something the editor should have lopped off and for which I
feel a bit apologetic. To make something orderly and consecutive
out of the divergent fragments that come naturally feels like
forcing myself through a Klein bottle. My hypertext novelPatchwork
Girl grew in clumps and strands like everything I write, but
unlike everything else it had permission to stay that way, to
grow denser and more articulated but not to reshape itself.
(It made me slightly nervous. Maybe I puritanically half-believed
I ought to button down, zip up.) I can't help seeing an analogy
between the editorial advice I have often received to weed out
the inessentials and lop off the divergent story lines, and
the life advice I've received just as often to focus, choose,
specialize. You don't show up for tennis in a tutu and a catcher's
mask, it's silly. But in this place without coordinates I cautiously
began to imagine that I could invent a new game, make a novel,
if we still want to call it that, shaped a little more like
my own thoughts. It is as though somebody chewed a hole in a
solid and irrefutable wall, and revealed an expanse of no-space
as extensive as the space we live in, or as though the interstices
between things could be pried apart without disturbing the things
themselves, to make room for what hasn't been voted into the
club of stuff.
get where you think you're going.
novel is a safe ride. It is designed to catch you up, propell
you down its track, and pop you out at the other end with possibly
a few new catchphrases in your pocket and a pleasant though
vague sense of the scenery rushing by. The mechanism of the
chute is so effective, in fact, that it undoes the most worthy
experiments; sentences that ought to stop you in your tracks
are like spider webs across the chute. You rip through, they're
likes give and take, snares and grottos, nets and knots. It
lacks thrust. It will always lack thrust; thrust is what linear
narrative is good at. As far as I'm concerned, we can trust
thrust to it. It means we'll need other reasons to keep readers
reading--assuming that's what we want--than a compulsion to
find out what happens next. There's no question that hypertext
will lose or never acquire those readers for whom a fated slalom
toward the finish line is the defining literary experience;
hypertext's not built for that. Probably it is because linear
text's so well-built for it that it has become the dominant
narrative style in the novel. But there are other reasons to
read. I can be caught in that slalom myself, but I emerge feeling
damp, winded and slightly disgusted. It is a not entirely pleasant
compulsion disguised as entertainment, like being forced to
dance by a magic fiddle. It becomes harder and harder to imagine
going anywhere but just where you're going, and words increasingly
mean just what they say. (Common sense reality does the same
thing: there is little opportunity for poetic ambiguity in the
dealings of everyday life.) Plot chaperones understanding, cuts
off errant interpretations. Reading a well-plotted novel I start
by knowing less than I know about my own life, and being open
to far more interpretations, which makes me feel inquisitive
and alive. I finish by knowing more than I want to know, stuck
on one meaning like a bug on a pin.
In a text
like this, gaps are problematic. The mind becomes self-conscious,
falters, forgets its way, might choose another way, might opt
out of this text into another, might "lose the thread of
the argument," might be unconvinced. Transitional phrases
smooth over gaps, even huge logical gaps, suppress contradiction,
whisk you past options. I noticed in school that I could argue
anything. I might find myself delivering conclusions I disagreed
with because I had built such an irresistable machine for persuasion.
The trick was to allow the reader only one way to read it, and
to make the going smooth. To seal the machine, keep out grit.
Such a machine can only do two things: convince or break down.
Thought is made of leaps, but rhetoric conducts you across the
gaps by a cute cobbled path, full of grey phrases like "therefore,"
"extrapolating from," "as we have seen,"
giving you something to look at so you don't look at the nothing
on the side of the path. Hypertext leaves you naked with yourself
in every leap, it shows you the gamble thought is, and it invites
criticism, refusal even. Books are designed to keep you reading
the next thing until the end, but hypertext invites choice.
Writing hypertext, you've got to accept the possibility your
reader will just stop reading. Why not? The choice to go do
something else might be the best outcome of a text. Who wants
a numb reader/reader-by-numbers anyway? Go write your own text.
Go paint a mural. You must change your life. I want piratical
readers, plagiarists and opportunists, who take what they want
from my ideas and knot it into their own arguments. Or even
their own novels. From which, possibly, I'll steal it back.
what we wish it were.
body, which we have denied representation, is completely inimical
to our wishful thinking about the self. We would like to be
unitary, controlled from on top, visible, self-contained. We
represent ourselves that way, and define our failures to be
so, if we cannot ignore them, as disease, hysteria, anomaly.
body is unhierarchical.
local intensities, not arguments. It is a field of sensations
juxtaposed in space.
It is vague
about size and location, unclear on measurements of all kinds,
bad at telling time (though good at keeping it).
It is capacious,
doesn't object to paradox, includes opposites--doesn't know
what opposites are.
It is simultaneous.
It is unstable.
It changes from moment to moment, in its experience both of
itself and of the world.
It has no
center, but a roving focus. (It "reads" itself.)
It is neither
clearly an object nor simply a thought, meaning or spirit; it
is a hybrid of thing and thought, the monkey in the middle.
It is easily
influenced; it is largely for being influenced, since its largest
organs are sensing devices.
It is permeable;
it is entered by the world, via the senses, and can only roughly
define its boundaries.
to us in stories, intensities, hallucinatory jolts of uninterpreted
perceptions: smells, sights, pleasure, pain.
image, its face is a collage of stories, borrowed images, superstitions,
fantasies. We have no idea what it "really" looks
we have banished the body, but cannot get rid of it entirely,
we can use it to hold what we don't want to keep but can't destroy.
The real body, madcap patchwork acrobat, gets what the mind
doesn't want, the bad news, the dirty stories. The forbidden
stories get written down off-center, in the flesh. In hysteria,
the body starts to tell those stories back to us--our kidneys
become our accusers, our spine whines, our knees gossip about
overheard words, our fingers invent a sign language of blame
and pain. Of course, the more garbage we pack into that magical
body the more we fear it, and the more chance there is that
it will turn on us, begin to speak, accuse us. But that body-bag
is also a treasure-trove, like any junkyard. It knows stories
we've never told.
think what we think we think.
enough to oppose the self to the not-self and reason to madness.
It's even possible to make the leap from here to there, though
coming back presents some problems. But the borders between
are frayed and permeable. It's possible to wander that uneven
terrain, to practice slipping, skidding in the interzone. It's
possible, and maybe preferable for the self to think of itself
as a sort of practice rather than a thing, a proposition with
variable terms, a mesh of relationships. It's possible for a
text to think of itself that way. ANY text. But hypertext in
particular is a kind of amphibious vehicle, good for negotiating
unsteady ground, poised on its multiple limbs where the book
clogs up and stops; it keeps in motion. Conventional texts,
on the other hand are in search of a place of rest; when they
have found it, they stop.
the mind, reading, wants to make sense, and once it has done
so it considers its work done, so if you want to keep the mind
from stopping there, you must always provide slightly more indicators
than the mind can make use of. There must be an excess, a remainder.
Or an undecideable oscillation between possibilities. I am interested
in writing that verges on nonsense, where nonsense is not the
absence of sense, but the superfluity of it. I would like to
sneak as close to that limit as possible without reaching it.
This is the old kind of interactive writing: writing so dense
or so slippery that the mind must do a dance to keep a grip
on it. I am interested in writing this way for two reasons.
One, because language must be teased into displaying its entire
madcap lavish beauty. If you let it be serviceable then it will
only serve you, never master you, and you will only write what
you already know, which is not much. Two, because the careful
guarding of sense in language is not just analogous to but entirely
complicit in the careful guarding of sense in life, and that
possibly well-intentioned activity systematically squelches
curiosity, change, variety, & finally, all delight in life.
It promotes common sense at the expense of all the others.
what it says it is.
thinks it "includes" fiction, that fictional works
are embedded in reality. It's the boast of a bully. But just
because reality's bigger doesn't make it boss. Every work of
art is an alternate "world" with other rules, which
threatens the alibi of naturalness our ordinary reality usually
flaunts. Every fictional world competes with the real one to
some extent, but hypertext gives us the chance to sneak up on
reality from inside fiction. It may be framed as a novel, yet
link to and include texts meant to be completely non-fictional.
Thus the pedigreed facts of the world can be swayed, framed,
made persuaders of fiction, without losing their seats in the
parliament of the real, as facts tend to do when they're stuck
in a novel. Hypertext fiction thus begins to turn around and
look back on reality as a text embedded in a fictional universe.
that might make us like reality better: it's reality's hegemony
that strips it of charm. Reality is based on country cottage
principles: what's homey must be true. It is a tolerable place
to live. What's dreadful is the homey on a grand scale, Raggedy
Ann and Andy turned Adam and Eve, cross-stitch scenes of the
Grand Canyon, the sun cast as the flame snapping behind the
grate, the ocean our little kettle. Those goofy grins turn frightening
on a cosmic scale; the simplicity that makes it easy to pick
up a coffeecup is not suitable for managing a country, or even
a conscience. The closure of the normal is suffocating at the
very least. By writing we test the seams, pick out the stitches,
trying to stretch the gaps between things to slip out through
them into some uncharted space, or to let something spring up
in the real that we don't already know, something unfamiliar,
not part of the family, a changeling.
what he says she is. The banished body is not female, necessarily,
but it is feminine. That is, it's amorphous, indirect, impure,
diffuse, multiple, evasive. So is what we learned to call bad
writing. Good writing is direct, effective, clean as a bleached
bone. Bad writing is all flesh, and dirty flesh at that: clogged
with a build-up of clutter and crud, knick-knacks and fripperies
encrusted on every surface, a kind of gluey scum gathering in
the chinks. Hypertext is everything that for centuries has been
damned by its association with the feminine (which has also,
by the way, been damned by its association with it, in a bizarre
mutual proof without any fixed term). It's dispersed, languorous,
flaunting its charms all over the courtyard. Like flaccid beauties
in a harem, you might say, if you wanted to inspire a rigorous
distaste for it. Hypertext then, is what literature has edited
out: the feminine. (That is not to say that only women can produce
it. Women have no more natural gift for the feminine than men
what you think I am. I am a loose aggregate, a sort of old fashioned
cabinet of curiosities, interesting in pieces but much better
as a composite. It's the lines of traffic between the pieces
that are worth attention, but this has been, until now, a shapeless
sort of beauty, a beauty without a body, and therefore with
few lovers. But hypertext provides a body, a vaporous sort of
insufficiently tactile body but a body, for our experience of
the beauty of relationships. It is like an astronomy of constellations
rather than stars. It is old-fashioned, in that sense. It is
a sort of return, to a leisurely old form, the sprawling, quizzical
portmanteau book like the Anatomy of Melancholy ( "a rhapsody
of rags gathered together from several dung-hills, excrements
of authors, toys and fopperies confusedly tumbled out,"
as Burton himself described it) to the sort of broad cross-fertilization
of disciplines that once was commonplace, only hypertext does
not provide so much courtly guidance across the intellectual
terrain, but catapults you from spot to spot. (The wind whistles
in your ears. It aerates the brain. You begin to feel like a
circus performer, describing impeccable parabolas in the air,
vacating every gesture before it can be fixed, wherever anyone
thinks you are is where you've just been, sloughing off afterimages.
You feel pared down, athletic, perfectly efficient.) The athletic
leap across divides has its own aesthetic, and so does the pattern
those leaps form in the air, or, to be more exact, in the mind.
People spend their lives forging such patterns for themselves,
but only the cranks and the encyclopedic generalists with vague
job descriptions, the Bill Moyerses, have the nerve to invite
others to try out their own hobby-horseride through the World
of Ideas. More often these are private pathways, possible to
make out sometimes in a novelist's ouevre (rare butterflies
turn up in Nabokov's fiction enough to make you guess that he
was a lepidopterist, if you didn't know already) as a system
of back alleys heading off from the work at hand, but not for
public transit. Until recently, that is, since the internet
seems to be making possible a gorgeous excess of personal syntactical
or neural maps, like travel brochures for the brain. What results
isn't necessarily worth the trip, but some of it will be: art
forms take shape around our ability to perceive beauty, but
our ability to perceive beauty also takes shape around what
forms become possible. Hypertext is making possible a new kind
of beauty, and creating the senses to perceive it with.
say what we mean to say. The sentence is not one, but a cluster
of contrary tendencies. It is a thread of DNA--a staff of staphylococcus--a
germ of contagion and possibility. It may be looped into a snare
or a garotte. It is also, and as readily, a chastening rod,
a crutch, an IDJbracelet. It is available for use. But nobody
can domesticate the sentence completely. Some questionable material
always clings to its members. Diligent readers can glean filth
from a squeaky-clean one. Sentences always say more than they
mean, so writers always write more than they know, even the
laziest of them. Utility pretends to peg words firmly to things,
but it is easy to work them loose. "Sometimes the words
are unfaithful to the things," says Bachelard. Indeed they
are, and as writers, we are the agents of misrule, infidelity,
broken marriages. It was not difficult, for example, to pry
quotes from their sources, and mate them with other quotes in
the "quilt" section of Patchwork Girl, where they
take on a meaning that is not native to the originals. We set
up rendezvous between words never before seen in company, we
provide deliciously private places for them to couple. Like
the body, language is a desiring machine. The possibility of
pollution is its only life. Having invented an infinitely recombinant
language, we can't prevent it from forming improper alliances,
any more than we can seal all our orifices without dying.
writing is stripped of the pretense of originality, and appears
as a practise of mediation, of selection and contextualization,
a practise, almost, of reading. In which one can be surprised
by what one has to say, in the forced intercourse between texts
or the recombinant potential in one text, by the other words
that mutter anagrammatically inside the proper names. Writers
court the sideways glances of sentences mostly bent on other
things. They solicit bad behavior, collusion, conspiracies.
Hypertext just makes explicit what everyone does already. After
all, we are all collage artists. You might make up a new word
in your lifetime--I nominate "outdulge": to lavish
fond attention on the world, to generously broadcast care--but
your real work will be in the way you arrange all the stuff
you borrow, the buttons and coins, springs and screws of language,
the frames and machinery of culture. We might think of Lawrence
Sterne, who, when accused of plagiarism, answered the charge
with an argument that was itself a plagiarism.
TO MAKE STATUES
We are not
who we wish we were.
to make statues of ourselves. The Greeks marched ever more perfect
bodies out of antiquity, slim vertical columns, like a line
of capital I's, a stutter of self-assertion. But works of words
are self-portraits too, substitute bodies we put together, then
look to for encouragement. Boundaries of texts are like boundaries
of bodies, and both stand in for the confusing and invisible
boundary of the self. The wholeness of an artwork helps firm
us up; in its presence we believe a little more in the unity
we uneasily suspect we lack. As a result we have an almost visceral
reaction to disorderly texts. Good writing is clear and orderly;
bad writing inspires the same kind of distaste that bad grooming
does, while experimental novels are not just hard to read, they're
anti-social. Proper novels are duplicate bodies to the idealized
ones we have in our heads, the infamous "thin person struggling
to get out." They're good citizens, polite dinner guests.
course, like other bodies, fall apart. Literally, and also in
the invisible body of the text, because language is libidinous,
and the most strait-laced sentence hides a little hanky-panky
under the dust ruffle. But monkey brain doesn't want to think
about that, project can't hear, and so the novel, over the course
of time, has become, despite the most flagrant tendecies toward
polymorphous perversity and transgender play, a very stalwart
announcement of nothing much. A sturdy who cares. One writes,
one produces literature, and as Bataille says, "one day
one dies an idiot." A project without any particular purpose
that I can see, besides the announcement that project exists,
that there is purpose and order, a sort of recitation of what
we already know. The novel has become the golem, the monster
that acts like everyone else, only better, because the narrative
line is wrapped like a leash around its thick neck. I would
like to introduce a different kind of novel, the patchwork girl,
a creature who's entirely content to be the turn of a kaleidoscope,
an exquisite corpse, a field on which copulas copulate, the
chance encounter of an umbrella and a sewing machine on an operating
table. The hypertext.
is the banished body. Its compositional principle is desire.
It gives a loudspeaker to the knee, a hearing trumpet to the
elbow. It has the stopped stories to tell, it mentions unmentionables,
speaks unspeakables; it unspeaks. I don't mean to say it has
different, better opinions than novels can muster up, that it's
plugged with better content. Hypertext won't make a bland sentence
wild or make a dead duck run quacking for the finish line. Fill
a disjunctive structure with pablum and you will only cement
the world's parts more solidly together, clog the works with
glue. It's not opinions I'm interested in, but relationships,
juxtapositions, apparitions and interpolations. Hypertext is
the body languorously extending itself to its own limits, hemmed
in only by its own lack of extent. And like the body, it no
longer has just one story to tell.
& THE BOOK
all you think it is.
I have no
desire to demolish linear thought, but to make it one option
among many. Likewise, I'd like to point out that the book is
not the Natural Form it has become disguised as by its publicists.
It is an odd machine for installing text in the reader's mind
and it too was once an object of wonder. Turning the page, for
example, has become an invisible action, because it has no meaning
in most texts, the little pause it provides is as unreflective
as breathing, but if we expected something different, or sought
to interpret the gap, we might find ourselves as perplexed by
that miniature black-out as by any intrusive authorial device
we get exercised about in experimental literature or hypertext.
Similarly, the linear form of the novel is not a natural evolutionary
end, but a formal device, an oulipian constraint, albeit one
with lots of elbow-room. Like all constraints, it generates
its own kinds of beauty, from graceful accession to linearity
to the most prickly resistance. My favorite texts loiter, dawdle,
tease, pass notes, they resist the linear, they pervert it.
It's the strain between the literal and the implied form that's
so seductive, a swoon in strait laces that's possibly sexier
than a free-for-all sprawl. Constraints do engender beauty,
Oulipo and evolution prove that, but maybe we've shown well
enough how gracefully we can heel-toe in a straight line. We
can invent new constraints, multiple ones. I think we will:
just because I advocate dispersal doesn't mean I'm as impressed
by a pile of sawdust as I am by a tree, a ship, a book. But
let us have books that squirm and change under our gaze, or
tilt like a fun-house floor and spill us into other books, whose
tangents and asides follow strict rules of transformation, like
a crystal forming in a solution, or which consist entirely of
links, like spider-webs with no corpses hanging in them. Language
is the Great Unruly, and alphabetical order is a contradiction
It was not
how they said it was.
I see no
reason why hypertext can't serve up an experience of satisfying
closure not drastically different from that of reading a long
and complicated novel, though it will do it differently. But
I'm not sure closure is what we should be working toward, any
more than a life well lived is one that hurtles without interruption
toward a resounding death. A life that hurls itself ahead of
itself seeking a satisfaction that must always remove itself
into the future will be nothing but over in the end, and the
same with those greased-lightning luge-novels. Don Delillo said
in a reading in San Francisco a week ago that the writer sets
her pleasure (his pleasure, is what he actually said), her eros,
against the great, megalithic death that is history's most enduring
work. I take that death to be not just the literal extinction
of life after life, but the extinguishing of the narrative pulse
of all those lives under the granite gravity of history recorded.
History is a cold, congealed thing, but if it is not too far
past, there are strands of DNA, molecules of story imbedded
in it, which can be rejoined and reanimated by a sufficiently
irreverent Frankensteinbeck. It's not the same as life, fiction
has a funeral flavor to it, no question, a stony monumentality
life luckily lacks, it has the thudding iambic footsteps of
the undead, but this is all to the good, because everyone listens
to a monster. Writers can't make facts react backwards, redo
what's done, but what we have left of what's done is stories,
and writers tell those better than most people. The incredible
thing is that desire suffices against history, against death,
against the hup-two lock-step of binary logic and the clockwork
of common sense. What we imagine is all that animates us, not
just texts, but also people. A beaker of imaginal secretions
makes us all desire's monsters, which is what we ought to be.