Glad to Mutate

Chris Nakashima-Brown has a piece on Strange Horizons called, "Nomadology". I could describe it, but maybe it would be better if I just let you read an exerpt:

"At the Royal Brisbane Country Club, the lower level of the clubhouse has been converted into interrogation facilities. Portions of the men's grill and locker room allowed to realize their immanent potential when the Homeland Guard recaptured the western suburbs and set up a beautifully landscaped gulag here, a mile or two outside the area under the control of the insurrection.

I am strapped to a banquet chair with hard plastic ties. On the wall opposite, the elusive face of Tiger Woods watches over his shoulder as my interrogator attaches the electrodes to my testicles. Is that a Mona Lisa smile the golfer wears, or some darker aspect? The predatory seduction of the child star.

The empty swimming pool through the window is a detention area surrounded by concertina. A thousand putative rebels rounded up at night from the surrounding municipalities shamble in the shallow rain puddles of the deep end, watched by black-uniformed sentries perched atop the lifeguard towers with assault rifles that intermittently glisten in the light of late dusk.

As the current starts to run through me, I hear the battery of lawn sprinklers kick in. The cascading shook-shook of watery machined spurts ejecting over the greener-than-real turf, unexpectedly synchronized with the waves of high-voltage spasms as they seize my corpus in a rictus of new pain."

Actually, I totally can describe it. It kind of reads like a soft-core "Roosevelt After Inauguration", by William Burroughs. This doesn't appear to be quotable online, but you can read an exerpt of it via a Burroughs Reader on Google Books here.

I like Nakashima-Brown's piece. I'm not the biggest fan of the enviable Burroughs; perhaps better to say that for me he has his moments, and then he also does not. Nor am I a really big supporter of topical subject matter in fiction. It's the atemporality thing--I personally stray away from anything that could date a piece of fictional prose. Like a friend of mine mentioned about rap songs and videos, you can tell instantly when they were outdated by the cell phones that cameo in the song. Fiction shouldn't strive to be universal necessarily, but it certainly shouldn't be looking for the thong-covered ass crack niche that is "current".

But "Nomadology" on the other hand, already feels dated, but in a powerful way, not one of obsolesce. It imparts the brittleness of history in the same way as these current events did when we first learned of them. It's all stuff that happened elsewhere to Americans, in another time and place. Maybe even a different world. Sure, we heard a lot about Darfur for a while. But atrocities, in the United States, always happen in the past tense. Facts always come to light after the fact, and then we condemn, and resolve to have it never happen again. Until the next time that breaking news uncovers what someone else was living with for days, weeks, or years, up until only recently.

And I think this is the real connection to Burroughs, not the shock value. "Roosevelt After Inauguration"... what, people were pissed about Roosevelt? Which one? Why? The whole thing sounds like fictional history, like Burroughs delusions of current events only existed in some drug-addled alternative dimension. But the real drug-addled alternative nightmare is real life, and history is the delusion. We know now that Roosevelt was a good president, because it says so in the history books. We know that Abu Grahib was a bad place, because we are told it is not so anymore. The truth of history is defined by it's nonexistence, and its segmentation to a volume of time and space that are divorced from the present. Both Nakashima-Brown and Burroughs bring the past to life in a way that can never die, because it is too bizarre to be killed. It's been zombified, and given chainsaws for hands, and had a clown mask sewn to its skin, and been installed with a 10,000-year rated deux-ex-machina-brand atomic power-cell, making it impervious to the ravishings of age and nearly unkillable. This horror has been inaugurated, and is going for four more years. Or is it four less years? History never actually happened if it's too horrible. We simply deny it by dating it; or does it do this to us? The story doesn't say, but I have a feeling those terrorist parties happen ever weekend, and on Tuesdays for Service Industry Night. You just need a flyer to get in.

The new Internet world is a strange place, and perhaps what is strangest is that things like car bombings still happen all the time. I'm glad someone is willing to document the strangeness in a way that can deliver the magnitude of history, without falling prey to the glossiness of aqueous-coated magazines, or the tiny fascisms of time, space, and plot. This is the job of literature, if ever it had one. As Roosevelt said, and I quote, "I'll make the cocksuckers glad to mutate."

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