I thought this essay was going to go into The Brutalitarian, but lo and behold, here it is on Welcome to the Interdome. Who knows why.
And once again I was on the Internet and reading the article in N+1, “The Calculating Critic” and once again, we return to the subject of plot. They always want more plot—not N+1 in particular, but these readers out there, given voice by the critics and the editors. You want it easier, more fun, smaller, shorter, flatter and more ergonomical, easy to grasp. Because this is what plot is, when it comes down to it. Plot is not the story, not the characters, not the language, not the voice—plot is the part that can be described easily, summed up, abstracted, and repeated as a mandra and motto to guide the reader through the words themselves.
“And what happens in the book?”
“Well, this is a book about X.”
Repeat these questions to yourself, this mainstream, modern mainlining mantra, and better yet, choose a book constantly repeating them for you, and if you like the experience, the reading is fun. Fun—because books are entertainment, after all. This is what we look for in life, and in our books; we wish to separate the work from the play, and do the former for that much more time with the latter. Light and dark, good and bad, salt and pepper, black and white.
It does have something to do with teenagers, doesn't it? The “the majority” always seeks easier books, in these terms “young-adult” books, is because they put reading in the category of fun, as opposed to work. Every young adult hates Shakespeare, because it is “dull, uninteresting, hard to understand, old,” and so on. Not every person felt this way in their youth of course, not about Shakespeare, nor Homer, nor Plato, nor reading in general, but this is what the majority may feel, because the majority is an entity that separates work from play. Work is what goes on in school, and play is what I want. Satisfy my base desires, and let me squeak through work as easily as I can. But for some reason, some of us found base desires easier to satisfy with certain substances and activities, during or after which it was highly pleasurable to pick up one of these classic books. Bong hits and The Illiad, for whatever reason. Shakespeare and heavy petting. Not just Romeo and Juliet either. What sort of person gets a little aroused by Lady Macbeth? Boil and bubble, teenagers in trouble. For whatever reason, our play seemed to keep crossing over into that artistic stuff, that stuff that everyone else said was supposed to be work.
If only life were flatter and easier to grasp. Not so many obstacles and more straight lines, direct passageways from one point to the next. Life can be made to mean more or less, depending on what you do with it. Push and pull it around how you want, arrange it in even rows, whatever. Words, on the other hand, will not mean more or less. However, you can still push them around. They are building blocks. Children may build castles and houses and railway stations with their blocks, but nobody is upset if they don't reflect local building codes and engineering specifications. It is a pattern with which to play. We play with the words, as we write and read them. Maybe they look like things, maybe they don't, but it is overwhelmingly odd to get angry at them if they don't take us anywhere, or fulfill our desires. They are words after all—not life itself.
But if they are not just work or play, then what are these words to me? What is this strange power, tugging on the exposed parts of my teenage desires like magic? Magic blocks of some kind. And a good magic is hard to find. 616 is the other number of the beast, you may or may not know, the unlisted number, never dialed, and never spoken. No meaning here, nothing that you would recognize. Hidden desire and more power, or so I like to tell it. Less speaking of truth and more fuel to power. Oh—that we all enjoyed speaking fuel to fire, the cold evaporative quality of gasoline on the skin, but in words of course. But we don't really want them all in here. Not those crowds of angry, sexy youth on TV. The magic is more potent when it is spoken softly, in the dark, over pure silence, over a single naked stranger in the dark. All magic has to be a little secret.
Of course for those of us engaged in the endless war of pouring words out onto the ground, hoping they somehow, some way worm themselves into someone's ear, we often wish we could use a funnel. Shouting out our magic into the cold air off the edge of the cliff is its own catharsis, but everyone wants a little love. Some even want cash. Some care about the “health of the industry”, whatever that is. Goodness knows they've never seen a day inside the gloom of a factory in their lives. But still, we invest. So we make it into little rhymes. The easiest poetry is that which rhymes. Only so much can fit into it.
Got a bit
Of plot to spit
Young folks like rap music too. Draw yourself another straight fucking line. Often about sex, drugs, cash, etc. Desires of course, set to the hard beating bop of the pounding-fuck music, and some synth on top like whipped cream on a go-go dancer. Desire satisfied, at 120 beats per minute. Don't hate the plot, hate the game. Hiphop may not be goin' out, but you sure don't see KRS-One on MTV.
The magic of youth is impressive; and I mean those teenage years, not the forgotten and repressive childhood. When the desires first start to loosen those bonds, is when we decide whether the magic is going to be the broadcast, megawatt, culture hearth, or whether we're going to listen to the empty frequencies, where we swear we hear secret agents reciting magic spells to pervert the bosses. We hang out at the reservoir at night, hoping someone is going to put acid in the water supply. We scribble in the margins of Harper Lee and Salinger, and look between the pages of our birthday present copy of On The Road, wondering why there isn't more here.
And then we grow up, at least a little bit, and we discover the secret library. Or we wish it was, and treat it like it was, sharing only with our friends, and with our imaginations. We imagined ourselves discovering Borges' fictional libraries. We looked deep into Pynchon's books for the missing footnotes, and the sourceless references. We sifted through Derrida's scattered and mistranslated postcards, looking at the pictures, if nothing else. We laughed at Heller's endless hilarious jokes, which are so funny because people actually died all throughout. We poured over Deleuze and Foucault's incomprehensible diagrams, which at least we could all agree were beautiful, and so we hung them as art. We felt the urge to listen to Glass' repetitions on repeat, or if not Glass, then perhaps at least Sonic Youth, and if not them, then certainly Joy Division.
And we didn't stop there. We revisited, and looked back, trying to find more evidence of magic through the centuries, even though we knew very well it didn't strictly existence. Because what does? When the most meaningful magic is what is secret, erased, discarded, mislabeled, untranslatable, and hard to fathom, who is to say there isn't magic anywhere there isn't a strict, straight, plotted line of meaningful existence? And so we fell in the void. We invented religion within Nietzsche, and made the biblical prophets, and Dante into science-fiction authors. And in learning about farce, we learn about tragedy. We handed out placards of deep meaning to Artaud, and to Schreber, and to others whose diagnosis and suffering was not so defined, but whose madness we minted into coin. We appointed positions within this madness, our own conquering angels in Pollock and again, in Nietzsche. We allowed the violence of every male artist or musician to ever hit a woman to be tragically beautiful, pondering rather than condemning. We did the same with Heidegger, Grass, Celine, and other tragedies of history. We elevated the drugs of Charlie Parker, William Burroughs, and Bukowski to be sacred and holy transubstantiations, which we may have sampled, or only handed off to these sacrifices. And we never wondered why Beckett, Cortezar, Ginsberg, Sartre, DeLillo, Ballard, and most of the rest all happened to be men, as if it were a total accident.
And mistakes were made, and they'll be made again. This is magic we're dealing with. This is heady, dangerous stuff, that none of us really understand, though we've got the books to back it up. We have to press forward, away from the path of plot, and keep heading on there. Keep writing secrets in our little black books, and keep our own teenage desires wrapped up in the dark. Can you blame us? What else should we do? Get a job, join the army, find a spouse, make some children? Forget any magic there ever was lurking in the corners, and pop on the radio, turn up TV, open a microwave dinner, go to the movies? Blast the silence out of us with advertisements? Blank space is wasted time, and wasted time is unrealized profit, after all. Draw the text straight, make the lines even, keep the text under 80K words, and the vocab below the level of the New York Times? Write and read topically, directly, and keep it pure and fun? Is this any better? Are we happy yet? Is it art? Is it marketable? Have we won?
Fuck that, and keep it punk. Punk was commodified, but it was the same idea. Turn up the incoherence, raise the middle finger, and if they wanted to stay, then let 'em. It was commodified, or it died. Same difference I guess, when you're crawling around in the dark on the floor, covered in something, looking for something to put in your mouth. It stopped moving around in the dark and left the room, so forget it, and if you leave this room right now, I guess I don't want to talk to you either.
And so let 'em take drugs, and let 'em fuck boys, and let 'em turn it up, or down, or play it twelve times on repeat, or backwards, distorted to hell and back, and fuck it, let's pray to hell for a change, and see who sticks around. Let them join the Nazis or the Stalinists I guess, and if they aren't killed on the back of that motorcycle maybe we'll still buy their next book. Or maybe we'll buy it only if they are killed. And I would have an intervention, but do you think he's ever going to stop using until they cut his arms off? And maybe we could send him somewhere, but would that really make him better? And maybe she should leave him, maybe they all should, but that's her decision I guess, and she still hasn't even after all the times. Maybe she should write a book. How come she doesn't? I'd buy it, as long as it doesn't come with plot.
I shoplift all my books anyhow. I steal them off my friend's nightstand, when he doesn't finish them. I accumulate late fines from the library as if it were income tax. I sure as hell don't buy them at the mall. I sure as hell don't buy them online. I have all these needs, you understand. I have to tell you want it's about. I have to understand what it's about, even though I haven't read all those magic spells. I've just got to, you understand, I need to. I got to turn away that mob, I got to fuck over the media, I got the subvert the spectacle, I got to sift a vanguard from those majoritarian masses. I got to turn those steeple bells upside down, and bury these upturned caldrons in my dark, basement pit, all of it on the right cosmological day I found referenced in this text, I got to bang in the cover of night, man, I got to play the new sound, the oldest music in my short teenage history. I got to find the forbidden, the beyond, the baddest bitches brew of them all.
And if you are still with me, still in the room, motherfucker, than you know it doesn't have fuck all to do with plot.