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From Four New Messages by Joshua Cohen

I recently picked up this collection of longish short stories on the advice of a friend who noticed that David Foster Wallace was sometimes featured on this blog.

It’s very good. Or rather the first story, “Emission”, is truly excellent, and while the other three are something of a mixed bag, I think there are enough beautiful passages to justify that “very good”.

It all feels very contemporary … more than contemporary, actually, but up-to-date—the word “contemporary” describing, say, the prose style, which is in fact somewhat reminiscent of Wallace, while by “up-to-date” I mean to describe the content. Or can the two be distinguished? Here is a sample from the first page:

Take a pen, write this on a paper scrap, then when you’re near a computer, search:

www.visitberlin.de

Alternately, you could just keep clicking your finger on that address until this very page wears out—until you’ve wiped the ink away and accessed nothing.

And if it’s the erotics of art that you want rather than hermeneutics …

They say in this industry you need a professional name because then it’s the profession who’s guilty and not you, then the profession is at fault and not you or your parents, your schools or the way you were raised.

This professional name—and no, it can’t be as rudimentary or flippant as “Professional Name”—becomes a sort of armor or shield, speaking in newer terms a version of what this industry in its more responsible incarnations requires: protection, a prophylactic.

A condom, a condom for a name.

We’ve had that conversation here at Korrektiv before, and of course pseudonyms have been around since Kierkegaard. Long before that.

But I don’t think I’ve ever seen the connection between anonymity (pseudonymity) and eroticism and their inevitable pitfalls quite so poignantly before. Poignantly and hilariously.

Within 24 hours, one Richard Monomian, drug courier to the children of the wealthy and successful, finds the story of his most bare-assed embarrassing moment fractaling in variations all over the internet. This might mean internet hell for poor Richard, but it’s all good fun for everybody else.

Within a week a hundredplus results all replicated his name as if each letter of it (those voluble, oragenital os) were a mirror for a stranger’s snorting—reflecting everywhere the nostrils of New York, Los Angelws, Reykjavik, Seoul, as thousands cut this tale for bulk and laced with detail, tapped it into lines, and his name became a tag for abject failure, for deviant, for skank.

To pull a Monomian.
To go Monomian.
Fucking Monomial.

No one, had you asked them, would have thought he was real. Only he knew he was real. And he only knew that, he thought, by his suffering.

Art is one way, maybe the most enjoyable way, of exercizing your empathy, or at least your capacity for empathy. Not a bad thing for a Wednesday in Lent.

Comments

  1. Does the author mean “poignant?”

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