House of Sleeping Beauties and No-heart

This was my first time reading House of The Sleeping Beauties. I bought it sometime last year but the timing was poor, since I’d just had surgery and was reading it while insomniac and full of stitches, and eventually had to put it down halfway through. I’ve just read it through now. I think it is the most perfect book I’ve ever encountered.

There is a theme in Kawabata which I’ve never seen dealt with as accurately or as cuttingly elsewhere, of people with extremely heightened aesthetic and sensual abilities, hyper-able to appreciate and study beauty, who are also completely without morals, and who mistake their genius sensitivities for goodness. I guess you see Europeans taking about this, but since Europeans fundamentally dislike and distrust beauty you can’t take them too seriously. Kawabata loves and understands beauty and clearly detests the men who replace their morality with aestheticism.

I like Kawabata for many reasons. Principally I love his technique. I am like a Kawabata protagonist in many ways. By biological settings and by cultivation I am extremely, painfully sensitive to sight and touch and all the animal gifts by which we interact with our atmosphere. What I seek in fiction is creation and sustainment of atmosphere. It is what I admire. It is what I enjoy. For me, it is the absolute art, to which all other author’s-arts aim. Kawabata is the great master of developing and galvanizing an atmosphere. I have never seen anyone better. In this story Kawabata smacks the scene and it begins to spin, deep dark and lovely and evil, hovering above earth, and doesn’t stop spinning until the last few sentences, when it blows up and kills you.

Here’s an interesting thing, and it is the impetus for my writing this. When I’d finished the story and blown up, I wanted to read the intro. My understanding was that the intro was written by the translator, Edward G. Seidensticker, who I admire enormously and whose translation of Genji I have also read. But I was puzzled reading this intro. Very prettily written, very clear-minded, and yet, apparently, missing the mark completely. “Does not impossibility of attainment put eroticism and death forever at the same point?” it asks, and claims that reading this story one “knows with the greatest immediacy the terror of lust urged on by the approach of death”, and ultimately concludes that the story paints an unusually vivid image of life. This seems to me the opposite of Kawabata’s mind—a mind in which the main character is depraved beyond self-awareness, beyond life, beyond death, and at once supremely capable of sensual appreciation. He is not exemplary of the man near death (and in fact literally isn’t near death; it is important to the story that our main character is a man of early old age participating in a recreation designed for men of actual senility)—he is an example of a man who has died morally and lives ghoulishly on. His eroticism is half-human. Could Seidensticker have translated so beautifully and yet so direly misread the story?

Well! Come to the end of the intro and see the name signed: Yukio Mishima. Mishima! I say that so often. I say it like Jerry Seinfeld saying Newman! Mishima, my demon brother. Mishima is the man Kawabata writes about. No man has ever lived who has been more able to write about the body and its sweetnesses, and no man has ever been more morally barren. Mishima was a fantastic, phantastic presentation of a man who was able to walk and talk and write while already dead.

We Live in the Post-Natural

Akira Yokoyama, 1983 (via 50 Watts)

I have been thinking about science fiction. It is often forgotten, and bears conscious recall, that the parallel to the group-based whirlpools of fanfiction and related collectives to which a subset of Gen Zs and Milennials belong, is for Gen X and Boomers science fiction fandom. Underneath a surprising amount of mobius-shaped thought belonging to a certain element of the over-50 counterculture are the structures and cultures of science fiction fandom, the SCA, the old cultures of sci-fi conventions, early Dungeons and Dragons, sci-fi Usenet. There is a peculiar self-admiration and anti-humanism deep down in the veins of this stuff, essentially unrelated to science-fiction or fantasy and entirely related to fandom, its qualities and functions. I can’t prove this hypothesis—for so many reasons, not least that I am magnetically repelled by geek culture of any vintage.

I was thinking of this because I was made aware that “anti-body”, a term I often use to describe American society, has appeared in anti-Jewish paranoiac writing of technicolor insanity by people once members of the Deep Green Resistance. These writers believe, in part, that transgenderism was devised and funded by billionaires to lay the groundwork for AI-supplemented human bodies. I obviously don’t believe this, because I am not demented. It’s frustrating to see yet another term with serious thought behind it get picked up and disseminated by lunatics. The hatred of American culture for the human body is real. There is no reason for this true statement to get mixed up with people who think David Icke has something to say.

And so I have been thinking about the by-roads of big culture, and by-roads’ by-roads. An important impulse behind sci-fi fandom of the 70s and 80s seems to be the desire to head quietly and sociably onto the left-hand path. The aim seems to be to discover any by-road off the big one, and to do it as a group. I understand the impulse but don’t respect it. Whatever my appearance, I have always, my whole life, been in the wildwoods: I am fundamentally contemptuous of the taking of paths. I am especially scornful of people who think a weird road with company isn’t a road.

My way of life better accords to reality than the pathful way. And now let me tell you why, in terms a sci-fi fan might empathize with. These are my terms and this is one jargon of my native language, but the early-fandom desire to cut across main ways might recognize itself in my belief that any way is an obscenity against original reality.

We are, as a post-lapsarian people, living in the post-natural. Death is unnatural; but death, understood here as the failure of the body to sustain itself on earth, is an element of life under the circumstances of this earth. It isn’t necessary in the sense that other items of this earth require it—because that kind of necessity is non-real. All things exist and weirdly, wyrdly, we have thonged them together in an apparently codependent web.

There are many peoples who could have been. There are many ethics and means of thinking which might have been organized. That we have so badly limited ourselves to what-occurred-in-the-moment, that we are a people of entirely intuitive culture, from our language to our science and its techniques, is a cosmic disappointment.

We are living under a tediously structured state of reality. It did not have to be this way. We are living, as I said, in the post-natural, where our impulses and intuitions are so magnified by their being out of place that they have become the whole of our culture. Our little reaches beyond this state are stuck to an idea—an idea which hates humans—that our bodies either fit or don’t fit into a network which we’ve either got to conform to or leave.

I am as I said opposed, both by my nature and by the little ethics I’ve developed or come into third-hand, to paths and especially to group-walking down special paths. I am especially attuned to the sound of subcultures who want to get off-road. I think you should keep an ear cocked to the elements of our culture who were fostered specifically in 70s and 80s sci-fi fandom, whether as present participants or as inheritors. I think you will find that they play a far larger role in the contemporary counterculture than you’d expect.

Addendum: I can’t believe I have to add this, but because I am talking about the DGR people and their ideas about gender I’ve got to specify: when I talk about the anti-human and anti-body ideas of bodies in or leaving networks, I am not talking about gender theory. This is not my sideways means of describing gender or gender “discourse”. I am literally talking about the having of bodies.

My copy of Beacon Quarterly #14 arrived in the mail yesterday! It features my short story “The Dweller”, which is about the Health Museum and a lamassu.

It was so much fun creating art for Meat for Tea magazine‘s virtual issue release earlier this month. I also read my poem “The Fulfillment House”, originally published in MfT’s ’19 issue. I’ll always be grateful to MfT for picking up that poem, which I think is a very good one, and which I was having so much trouble placing that I was beginning to despair of seeing it in a magazine. It’s a new myth and also a Schubert lieder.

Murder in the Hotel!

The fact is that damning sins are sad and silly. Paolo and Francesca wouldn’t be sliding birth-bagged around if they had really had a happy kiss. Real joy would have pushed its head up like a baby inside that kiss and they would have been saved.

There are other girls walking around like me. Miss Lana del Rey is hoping in the aquarium. It is true that I fear the pains of hell and the loss of heaven. I wouldn’t have slept with a one of those men if I were looking for someone to marry.

In the idiot hotel I slept with the man and then I went and bought holy cards. Look, look, you know what we are missing. Out of the chlorine comes the head with the Big Head eyes, two colored rings and an open mouth with water streaking between its teeth. The head is God and you know when it arrives.

King man in the black hotel. I’ve never met him. You know the way. The chill gets to be too much. Here’s what’s interesting. I am walking down the hill and it’s difficult because of the angle. My womb and ovaries bob and shake, red and white, salting blossoms. I am having surgery so that I can have babies and a lot of sex. I like the third-worst scene in Malena, where she is Mary in the race, shaking from the men’s shoulders, and crying.

I am disappointed in the bad news. The fact is that I am calling to the right man. I want the bad news in the black hotel on the prairie. Look at the line of traffic. I know that there are other women like me. I don’t ask for men like me. I only want them to be quiet enough for me to think.

I know how to love. It is one of the five things I can do. I am not talking about sex. I am saying love. I can love a man for forty years. All it takes is my deciding.

Who will bring me the bad news?

It turns out that men’s desires are mostly sorry. They are mostly memories from their childhoods. I could love this. When I decide to I will. But where is my big blue god, treading through the hotel’s roof like a granddad through a flooded basement?

Murder is boring, rape is boring, adultery and infidelity and drugs are boring. It is all habit. The movies are only reminding you of something. Here comes goblin-God, born in a peach.

Peach boy on the semen seas. Some god came in the water and the beautiful fruit developed. When it got near the shore it was big-toothed. Oh God. Oh God.

You know what I am longing for. The man in the long legs. Look at the long line of traffic from this hopeless distance.

Will you love me in the basement? Will you love me in the carpet? Will you come get me at the rest stop? Are you conscious of your sins?

Absalom Waits for an Interview

Here is a second excerpt from the 2017 or 2018 story I excerpted in my previous post. Here, a painter named Absalom sits in a hotel room. Because this passage was originally split between two different chapters, I’ve added an ellipsis where its original break occurred.

As Palomar opened the window in Prague, Absalom asked for coffee on the phone in London. He thought himself shambly and stupid on the phone – in general and in this instance. He moved a finger over the batter-colored cord, bending and relaxing the joint at the knuckle with movements like a bird. He listened and thanked the kitchen and put the phone down.

In his mind Absalom moved over a hill. He moved through water. Absalom used his limbs to paddle through water. Absalom tried to use his arm like the spear of a canoe’s paddle, pushing with the flat of his hand and cutting the lake with the frankly mystifying physics of rowing. The sky was wan but pretty. There were some thin clouds. Instead, the sky was a brilliant stone blue and the clouds were distinct and spread as above the desert. A bee came down astoundingly, to the center of this lake from the sky, and hung before Absalom as he paused, treading. It was like a yellow spider on a web. The light caught it. The bee moved off sharply, without angles, to the right.

Absalom sat in the red chair and looked at the flowers. He thought about the apology to Pilgrim’s Progress but discarded it after only a moment. In his mind his hand moved over his books. He thought of Thomas Merton. He thought of John of the Cross and took his hand back before he was sure whether he had been in pain at the touch.

Brilliant roses the color of girls’ toys. Gigantic white roses. Red roses, ubiquitous. Big dinnerlike camellias. No one will ever see Absalom sitting here. Absalom moves like an animal entirely underground. Absalom and the stuffing, the ancient stuffing in the red chair. Absalom is the stuffing in the red chair. Absalom looked at himself as he habitually did, considering, placing and admiring or disgusted by himself. He seemed now to be a black stone, a black beryl bead or a miniature silhouette or one of Palomar’s scarabs set in an oyster-mauve slick bed, surrounded by a frame of bodyoid ivory, enclosed with a gilt lid and clasped at a woman’s throat. A blue silk bow at the end of a locket. A blue silk bow like a cat’s necklace, but very small, small as a mint.

Hundreds of flowers surrounded Absalom. The high-ceilinged room smelled of greenery but more pungently of preserved greenery and the ball-shaped food for plants. The flowers were beautiful. Absalom liked to sit with them stood out around him like this. He used to look at spools of thread in his mother’s mending box. This was like that.

Absalom thought of the camellias in the garden in Rome. Remarkably they fell still full, and lay in perfect spectrum-red blossoms, round and clean as dishes. These camellias here were blue. A good candy blue to which his eye returned and was happily surprised each return to be allowed to look, to have the time to look. The camellias beneath the trees in Rome, a remarkable fruit, so whole, so red. The blossoms on the trees bent their whiplike branches in pretty curves and the blossoms faced down. Bells. Mouths. The flowers in Stanhope’s silly love-and-the-maiden. Mostly the bounty beneath the tree, its impossible appeal, nothing of rot about it if comparable to some degree to mashed strawberries. On the whole: healthy and promising, suggestive of eternal life and movement from one stage to another in the same shape and beauty.

Absalom was enraged and the coffee arrived.

Absalom thought of Appalachia, which he had only encountered romantically, grotesquely in fiction. He’d no doubt that the real Appalachia was as various and moral as any place, and the photographs and films he’d seen of that country inspired feelings of reverence and joy in him, not the infected horror which green things seemed to suggest for others. Now he took himself through the horrible Appalachia, which compelled him.

His assumption of its real beauty – reliable enough, formed as it was by his own childhood in the North Country – and the pornographic romances of the gothics and his distinction, clarification of the hills’ real horror alongside other rural horrors he had known, all of this together provided for him a terrible, gorgeous allegory, real and unreal. He thought of inbreeding. He thought of an inbred boy. He thought with some wonderment of the possibility of genetic error. It conflicted with Absalom’s concept of the world, in which the unconscious things and the nonhuman things and the accidents of time generally harmonized on behalf of the active human. Absalom knew this was not the way of the world: this knowledge against his natural feelings were what amounted to his piety.

He reminded himself of the truth, that human misbehavior, sexual misbehavior, could result in the innocent and injured, maybe way down the line. Absalom imagined the inbred boy and dressed the scene. The boy, thin and weird-boned, jaw like a partially-melted cube of ice, sitting still as though in a state of uncommon attentiveness but eyes placid and warm like a drunk’s, mouth sad as teddy bears’ mouths suggest sadness. The boy sits shirtless, small shoulders near one another, muscular upper arms meaty as corpses, in the barn’s shady insides, face pointed that way, where you can be sure there is nothing. Sits on a crate. Without, in the sun, a rotted iron plow. The barn, the machine left to become useless, the cool silver-black of the shade, this high-romantic wretch in his symbolic idiocy spoke to Absalom. They spoke of carelessness and a lineage of wrong, unattended cruelties which did not naturally crumble. Absalom was interested to think of this evil which remains despite the changing of the seasons and the earth’s turning. Absalom placed himself in Appalachia and walked through rooms, imagining his own part in the evil of such a place.

Then said Pliable, Ah Neighbor Christian, where are you now?

Truly, said Christian, I do not know.

Palomar Takes a Bath

Here is a passage from a story I was writing in 2018, for my own interest and pleasure and never for publication. Palomar is a composer and musician. In this excerpt, he takes a bath.

The water shook itself over his feet. Silent feet. All his body silent, awoken from a dream of huge music, cacophonous or beautiful. The limit of his feet, place where his white skin stopped, seemed to also be the limit of motion and life. Before his feet there was the moving thing. His boundary was the boundary of life. He was utterly thick, entirely filled throughout all his form, and there was nothing living or alive within him. He turned the faucet and sank down.

The water was cool. The apartment was hot. The hours Palomar had fed to the pool at his school’s gymnasium, fed as you would patiently and gradually let rope down as it is needed. The vastness of the time seemed remarkable to him now. It was good time and not wasted. The noise came from the ceiling and walls, geometric calls and cracks and the slappings of steps and reverberation of railings striking and bouncing off the strings and spots of the lights on and in the pool. The lights of the water. He had gone so often to that place that they became ordinary and then indistinct and at last cosmically distinct, a daily and hourly table of information, and as these things go Palomar was made aware of how the food came to him and that it sustained him.

He had heard of men in the Himmalayas, Buddhas, who by great focus and selflessness and starvation become fully conscious of each of their breaths, to the point of being able to pause and reactivate their own blood circulation. That was probably like the sounds and lights of the gymnasium’s pool. Palomar lay in the tub, head on its rim, knees unusually relaxed if not straightened. It was a huge tub. Palomar lay in the tub and knew about himself. With his athletic habit and the other somatic qualities intrinsic to Palomar but mysterious to Palomar, Palomar knew the location of his body and its shape. He knew the distance from his shoulder to his hand, from his hand to his foot. The ceiling was white and the bath’s light covered it, moving like a snake in its new beautiful skin – the strange beauty of snakes, the sense they give you of moving while their bodies are still.

Palomar brought himself down. He lifted his feet from the water and set his ankles on the end of the tub. His body flew down like anything grabbed down underwater. Like the meat demonstratively offered to sharks in nature documentaries, grabbed by the huge blunt mouth as by a big hand badly, clumsily, & surely pulled down. His back made the huge brass-section rubbing blow against the tub as he slid. Now Palomar lay with his ears underwater. He listened. Music like none other. It visited him, whole and perpetual, and it wasn’t a question of imitating it later, or partaking in it as you would an inspiring thing, or of forgetting it was real as you forget intense feelings of early love are real, or working smoothly or indeed being inspired; though maybe it was healthy to sometimes experience and sometimes forget these things, there is a storytelling aspect to that forgetfulness: it is a story you tell yourself about how what you have seen was not seen.

It would not have occurred to Palomar to talk himself out of the memories of these sounds. To be visited by these sounds was like going definitely to the pool, and the experience he now had of being a man who had spent so many hours of his youth swimming: the visit had hard certain lines and was pleasing for the fact of its being itself, not its suggesting other things, though certainly it was pleasant in other ways and certainly it suggested other things. It was most like the year. It was like the year and the week, which Palomar synesthetically had seen as a definite location, a pale orange stripe, gradient, labeled with the days, or in the annual, a ring of places around him, its sites spent-time-at every year of his life. These, the days and year, he experienced with child good-humor, relying on it because it was reliable and unaffected by its superficial resemblance to dismal repetition, the repeating things which end people – things like Aida’s black door, which begets itself & begets itself simultaneously & forever & in this constant buzzing multiplication subsumes everything dynamic which touches it.

The air picked up through the little window; Palomar felt it move cool as a breath over his toes and inner knees. The new curtains must have been lifted into the room and up; the light in the lavatory, lain here as much as in the main room through the open door, turned green. The ceiling glowed.

I have written a chapbook about animal-human transformations in art. I intended to release it in the spring of ’20, but mysterious circumstances prevented me from doing so. I will release it when I’m able! For now, please enjoy this excerpt from my observation of The Boy Hidden in a Fish (the Little Sea Hare), David Hockney, etching and aquatint, 1969

The stones on the sea floor are solemn, and funny in solemnity. This stone here is etched with shadow as if shadow had the stone between thumb and forefinger and turned it quickly, maybe with irritation. There are sea plants like the shoots of yarn you are suprised to see in the braid of a birds’ nest. Across the long floodplain there is dark and sand and silt like college-ruled paper distorting just before it is consumed in flames.

There is a white fish who floats in fish-motion. It is humped as a hill but heads forward neither from its shoulders, as if suspended, nor from its base, as if pulled by a rope. It is most like a puppet zipping along the stage then half-sun out of sight.

The fish’s eye is blank as a Daruma. There is a space along its shoulder where its scales are made invisible by the light shining along the long mound of its side—and then the scales reappear across the boy, like stitching in a gauze bandage. By the fish’s mouth its scales are fine and small, and they grow to pass over the widening fish body, over the boy.

I vividly remember the hush of crying at the sound of rescue. The crying stops like a cat’s ear twitches. This boy seems exhausted to the point of calm. The line of the fish’s plump neck crosses the boy’s face, over the bridge of his nose, touching the tuck of skin beneath his eye, dividing eye land from nose land and mouth land.

The boy’s mouth is like the fish’s: white space delineated by a middle which climbs over the thumb. It has always disturbed me that the boy is so old, ten or eleven, and sucking his thumb. I suppose it’s natural when you’re scared, and moreover invisible and therefore private, to become a littler child.

The boy’s body is a little above the lowest limit of the fish at arm and hand. There is a white country of fish beneath him. I have the impression that the boy was stamped, somewhat crookedly, into the fish like an airport stamp into the square of my passport. At his knee and at the cuff of his bell-bottom the boy is almost flush with the fish’s line.

The boy is curled on his side. His eyes are distant, focussed and cross—not angry but abstracted. He looks angry because people look angry when they are focussed inward. That is how children look when they are tired and that is how adults look when they are praying in earnest. The tussel of scales at the flattening before the fish’s tail is dark because the scales are so close together, like crescent moons cast by leaves during an eclipse. The boy’s toe in the fish’s tail is like a hand in an overlong sleeve.

At last my Covid-delayed copy of Salt Hill’s megaissue has arrived. You can find two of my poems, “Heliostat” and “Gag”, in the black half.