Friday, October 30, 2015
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Saturday, October 24, 2015
Turning the key did little of any avail
or less, perhaps because opening had been
made illegal by an act of Congress
the previous year (—98). It was
in no one's interest to object, they made sure
of that. Getting up to look around, then
returning to tap away with the finger,
tap away until perhaps a hole is worn
through the surface where we sit. Interstices1
insist upon so little, though busily
consisting, moving from instinct to research
so quickly. Partitioned off was only
the beginning; the end, yet to come.
1late M.E.: from Latin interstitium,
from intersistere 'stand between', from
inter- 'between' + sistere 'to stand'.
New Oxford American Dictionary,
Third Edition, 2010. I refer
to it as it is what I have to hand.
Friday, October 23, 2015
The narrator — who has for years been attempting to assemble this train which the missing sister has been mailing "piece by piece" — is horrified when Becky yanks a piece of it out of place and puts it somewhere else, where it fits every bit as well as it had before, now serving a completely different function. "If the parts are malleable and contain as many hidden pockets as the letters, the variables are infinite. How will I piece it together if even the pieces lie to me? ... How much of my train is a lie?" But in this very interchangeability — arbitrariness seeming to come to the fore, taking precedence over necessity — perhaps lies the truth. We look for a luggage rack and find instead a control panel; we reach for the word "drive" (already inappropriate, surely, for a train?) and discover we must find some other word. Literature, writes Miguel de Beistegui,
lets itself be carried off to where the real flees its own self-presence. Ultimately, the real just is that very self-absence. And if it always disappoints, it's not because we always expect too much of it but because we expect it where it actually isn't, because it's never where we expect it to be, because it can only be grasped in its own drift or constitutive gap. We always want it to be in its rightful place but that place is precisely where it's not, precisely where it's lacking.Now, the story at hand may not always let itself be carried off as fully as I think it should. But the train, in its malleability, in its infinite variability, indeed in its arbitrariness, is not a lie; though who knows where it may be taking them as the story ends, though it looks entirely different than expected, it brings static futility to an end: it works, it goes, it is.
Sunday, October 18, 2015
Thursday, October 15, 2015
Whatever unconscious part of my mind chose "weight" as the metaphor here has a goofy, maybe pat, sense of irony, because the plot information which that language that announces its mastery seeks to convey so masterfully, right at the beginning, is that Gabriele has lost gravity. The ramifications of this as they play out over the deadly and short course of the story is where the interest lies, for me, particularly as the story nears its end and Gabriele's consciousness returns to her human body — rather than that body being, as it has been for so long, merely something like "a hand or a foot, a useful part of herself that did not and could not possibly contain her consciousness." The juxtaposition of this return to "ordinary" human experience with the removal of one of the most central aspects of that ordinary experience is a suggestive situation (one which, indeed, puts me in mind of certain comments from a book by Josipovici other than the one Mitchelmore was reviewing in the above-linked post, namely Touch, along with the very different perspective on embodiment one finds in the work of Eighteen and some other cyborg thinkers). I am grateful to Martine for opening up this associative space, and hope that some day she may find a way to approach it (or whatever else) on its own terms — and those of writing itself — rather than those of the assembly-line writing workshop.
Thursday, October 1, 2015
"Anything I populate this world with would be just automatons — as complex a set of heuristics as I can buy, but they wouldn't emulate human behavior with any degree of verisimilitude. I thought of modeling you, actually."Along these lines what especially fascinates me is the moment in which, immersed in the simulation, the emotions Heilui feels when explaining the real situation to Kerttu cause physiological responses, not in Heilui's "real" body, but in her avatar, not out of necessity but out of habit. Here "authenticity" and artifice struggle against one another and end up so intermingled as to be, as they perhaps fundamentally always are, indistinguishable.
In fictional terms, in terms of the writing, where does this leave us? Perhaps what it all really means is distance. About halfway through the story seems to allow into itself a statement of its own methods. At the tailor to buy clothes of her own choosing with her client-wife's money, Kerttu
chooses a postmodern keipou, unpatterned black sheathing her like carapace. Sleeveless, high crescent collars, unrelieved contrast between fabric and complexion making a monochrome print of Kerttu. “I lost much and there was never a funeral,” she explains the color. “I need to mourn. I expect I’ll always be mourning.”(Note the passive voice, even, which seems almost to remove the observation from Kerttu specifically and suggest it really does mean everything else.)
But this, like everything else, is said with distance as though discussing someone else’s grief.
In her review of "The Occidental Bride" Nina Allan refuses the common but superficial, too-easy description of Sriduangkaew's prose as "lyrical," going on to say that "The beautifully polished, artfully rendered surface of the story is like mirror glass — bouncing our own gaze back at us, attracting our attention away from the shattering realities that lurk in the depths before revealing them full force." Though I think the rejection of "lyrical" is absolutely correct, and though I think Allan and I are responding in similar ways to the same aspects of Sriduangkaew's work, I find the mirror analogy somewhat off. The scene early on, in which Heilui and Kerttu are married on a train with a "portable altar" officiating (and with "simulated incense and ancestors, two-dimensional gods rotating to give them blessings"), gives the key to my reading: "They marry on the train," we read, "the world's ruin rushing past in silent witness." Without getting too high-school-symbolism about it I take "the world's ruin" as including us, the damaged readers rushing past in silence.
It is difficult to know how to bear witness in this world that keeps us distracted and misdirects our best impulses into violence (a world mirrored in this story by the ubiquitous surveillance, the sniper team, and so on — and with the portable altar and simulated ancestors, could even the wedding require the legal formality of a witness?). In this context I see Sriduangkaew's writing as immersing us, not in the world of the story or its events but in the language itself, precisely so as not to immerse us in the event (and I differ from Allan again in that I think nothing here is ever revealed full force), precisely so as to provide a distance from which we can witness, and also ask what it means to do so.
(What we are witnessing in this story I have essentially not mentioned.)