1-JUNGIAN (Borgesian?) EPITAPH
In the summer of 2002, two women I’d known in Berlin, in the early ’90s, came back into my life. I had known them during my club days, they had each left Berlin for seven years (one travelling in India, the other living in Bali), they were each half-German (half-Indian in one case, half-Cuban in the other) and had each returned to Berlin with a daughter (Sarah, Shana), immediately after which I bumped into them, within a week of each other, after no contact for seven years. They were 28, funny, black-haired, copper-colored, about five foot seven, dancer-fit (one was a dancer, the other still a club girl) and clever (one more bookish than the other). One had the first initial “M”, the second had the first initial “N”. They even came to me in alphabetical order.
Both women looking for a man, I was looking for a Wife (43 and terrified of the thought I might be damned to clubbing in my 50s) and I wanted a child (specifically: a daughter) so… maybe a young girlfriend with a built-in daughter was the solution? I had to choose between the two eerily similar options. I thought long and hard and finally emailed N. to tell her that I wouldn’t be able to meet her again before she left for Bali in October. N. responded (in her third language):
- n____ t____ <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- 09/21/02 at 5:22 PM
well we never made it to meet up again too bad. but maybe
if you are still there in berlin in november we can see. anyway hope
you are doing fine business etc. well take good care of yourself in this crazy city.
for me its good i came back to bali, its nice to feel this special freedom
from this island. come check it out some time. you will b surprised.
okay talk soon.
big hug n_____ and Shana
I chose M., the half-Cuban and her daughter, so N. ended up returning to Bali that Fall. The last thing I wanted to do was string a single mother along while I dithered with my decision, but perhaps my good intentions made me a little hasty in the choosing (in any case, I’m much happier with my actual Wife and our Daughter, all these years later, than I could ever have been with anyone else, though I couldn’t have known this would be the case at the time, obviously; I was still a little more than two years from the Thursday, 5pm, Dec. 16th, on which my future Wife and I finally met). I chose M.
M. was a New Age Hippie and I found myself struggling to ignore the preposterousness of her various beliefs (in magical, levitating Gurus, for example) in order to make the relationship work. She had a lot going for her… chief of which, for wordy me, was her ability to engage in long-form conversation. She was well-read, beautiful, sexually energetic and laughed, with convincing helplessness, at my jokes: the rest (including my own quirks) we could work on, I reasoned. At least she was open and caring (those famous Hippie attributes), right?
October 12th of 2002, there came the massive club-bombings in Bali, killing 202 people. I began to worry, after news of the bombing, when I emailed N. and she didn’t get back to me, but I assumed she was angry or had simply found someone else: what were the odds that she’d been in that club that night? Much greater than I’d assumed.
It was a little less than a week after the attack that I received a call from a stranger, while riding the U-Bahn, a stranger who turned out to be N.’s sister, her sister bearing very bad news. I remember the terrible feeling of wondering (in the space of a few numb milliseconds) if I could say anything meaningful, or even sound grief-stricken enough, as this woman informed me that her sister was one among the many dead I had been reading about in newspapers. Had I chosen N., she’d have stayed in Berlin instead of returning to Bali in October… she wouldn’t have been in that club the night the bomb went off. I wondered what would happen to her daughter. I thought on how hard N. had been working in the gym after giving birth, how proud she’d been to get her pre-pregnancy body back. Blown to bits.
When I saw M. that evening, I said, as soon as she opened the door to her flat:
“Remember N.? She was killed in the Bali bombing.”
M. shrugged and said (verbatim): “Shit happens.”
I’d never heard that kind of response when delivering news of a death. After breaking up with M. (for lots of other not-entirely-unrelated reasons) I thought back on her chilling reaction to N.’s awful murder, and the irony of M.’s passionate concern, at the time, for so many celebrated causes, such as Tibet and the Chinese government’s apparent persecution of the Falun Gong sect.
People and Life are too fucking peculiar, at times. I probably write, on some level, in part, to distance myself from that.
2-NOTES FOR A POSSIBLY FACETIOUSLY ARCH BOOK REVIEW OF HELEN DEWITT’S THE LAST SAMURAI
*** POSSIBLE TITLE: “Tall Tales in American Fiction with Special Emphasis on Super Powers as Manifested in Post-Reaganite Prodigy Fetishes: A Study in Aspirational Munchausen-by-Proxy Narrative” cite: Helen DeWitt, Percy Everett, Safran Foer (who else? The kid with a “475 IQ” must be a common early-21st century literary gimmick, the highbrow version of the Marvel Blockbuster ) and contrast with strikingly more humanist mid-to-late 20th century literary anti-prodigy narratives à la JK Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces)…
***DECIDE: “CLEVER+” or “CLEVER-PLUS”?
*** USE: “The latest beneficiary of Masterpiece Roulette (expand on riff)…”
*** POLISH AND USE: “The never-paling pleasure of being told (by a humorless trans-Atlantic scold in a glee-club-ish cardigan) what a humorless scold (chrome-domed but de Bottonesquely fringed) finds funny and/or worthy” (differentiate between this gripe and gripe re: propaganda/ social engineering re: absent father/ heroic single mother trope… mitigated by DeWitt’s apotheosized TLS absent father vs the demonized absent father of proletarian lit? refracted through the lens of a pretentious kid you’d like to slap?)
CONSIDER: is any concept represented by more redundant a term than that of “the superfluous man”? is TLS written around the negative presence of a new kind of Oblomov-as-renegade-non-phallus-aka-Trans Woman-sigil?
CONSIDER: Brainy types, so often resented, under suspicion, picked on and physically bullied, may develop crafty methods, if they survive adolescence, for achieving certain goals by manipulating the cattle. It is more than a little amusing to see DeWitt turn her ingrown knots of elitist trivia into a so-called novel whose big trick is ingratiating itself with the cattle by pretending to be a self-help book. No, sorry, cattle, you will not become a polyglot by reading this busy-busy pamphlet nor spawn a prodigy by the same insinuated method. This book can only pretend to gesture at improving you if you don’t understand it. What’s to understand? DeWitt wants you to 1) know how smart she is 2) pay her for the knowledge and 3) admire her in the bargain. (Pick two.)
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED: CLEVER+ writers, with lots of good ideas, often need to learn to integrate their gifts within the textual structure of what we call story-telling (as opposed to the extra-literary structure of hype: Slav Ziz’s notion that a book is more powerful, if not more fun to read, if one hasn’t read it… Das Kapital, Infinite Jest, The Last Samurai etc). Literary magic involves more than stuffing the page with IQ… there needs to be triggered (within the reader) a steady rhythm of sensations… the easiest among which to trigger being laughter, the subtlest among which being aesthetic delectation or the scalp-tingling epiphany or sheer relief that the book either didn’t stink like a rotten snack in a fanny-pack or came in the mail for free. Hard to score these sensations by rifling through a montage of thinly-veiled lectures in a strobe light. There’s a technology for doing it well. Too many CLEVER+ writers (and I include Pynchon on that list, though he’s staked out his own info-hoarding, horror vacui aesthetic and appeared as himself in a beloved cartoon, so why should he care?) haven’t mastered that technology; CLEVER+ writers = gorgeous people who never really bothered to learn how to dance because they are invariably invited to the ball anyway, so…
… (but wouldn’t it be great if they could dance?)…
3-A CIVIC SUGGESTION
Be suspicious of any trope equally embraced by kaffir-flogging supremacists and virtue-signalling liberals and so, perhaps, it’s time to abandon the judgmentally (and/or well-meaningly) racist trope of “the deadbeat Black father” and wonder, instead, how and when (working class) Black girls and women were encouraged to believe that carrying to term the child of an uncommitted lover (or stranger) is in any way good? Or that collecting several children, by several uncommitted lovers, is normal? And question, too: if educated women with a sense of A) self-worth B) social mobility C) a future are as likely to be as lax in the department of their own contraceptive needs… or as likely to carry a fatherless child to term and even actively seek to get pregnant , “out of wedlock,” via unavailable partners?
How many of these so-called “deadbeat Black fathers” were in actual committed relationships with the women they slept with (with pregnancy as a result); did they “walk out” on committed spouses or merely remain, as they (and the mother) expected to, unconnected in any meaningful way? Perhaps these “deadbeat Black fathers” had lives, too, and perhaps any of the women who deliberately got pregnant should accept the bulk of the responsibility for the consequences of the goal achieved? (eg if a man contracts an STD from a partner, can he blame the partner more than he blames himself for not wearing a condom?)
Shouldn’t a woman be more responsible for (ie concerned about) what happens to her own body, as a result of consensual interaction with a partner, than the partner? Does any answer other than “yes,” to that question, negate a woman’s agency and infantilize her? Are women still held to be too weak/ dependent to claim responsibility for their own bodies? Is this a paradox of Nanny State Feminism? It’s a woman’s choice (in most of the “free” West) to carry a fetus to term, or not; should it be a man’s choice, as well, as to whether said woman can do either? Whoever enjoys the unilateral freedom of that choice (in the context of a partnership with a partner lacking essential rights to a decision) must also shoulder the burden of the responsibility of that choice. The fact that this isn’t the case is a reflection of either A) The State’s unethical indifference B) The State’s understated preference for bringing fetuses (in bulk) to term. Does The State prefer population booms or shortages? Are shortages taxable?
Welfare used to pay “unwed” mothers de facto bonuses to have more children in the “unwed” condition; the programs to do so may no longer exist but cultural momentum is long. As are unthinkingly racist stereotypes (which are also, to our detriment, fun).