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Life Is Amazing I Hate You
Eli S. Evans
Eli S. Evans deconstructs the notion of the amazing, and throws
up some fundamental questions about social relations. Is there more hate than wonder
in this world? Is hatred the desire to be? Why do we really hate? This essay is
provocative, educative and, of course, amazing.
y old roommate,
who here shall remain nameless for the specific reason that I am about to disparage him,
made a habit--at least during the time that I, lamentably, was forced to know him--of saying
that things were amazing. But he wouldnít just say it: he would lean into it, adding a verbal
dash or two to drag it out, or open it up like a great plain or a crescent moon: a-maze
I think that this was his way of saying on the one hand absolutely nothing and on the other
hand something he could never explicitly consent to saying, something along the lines of:
the quality of my life is beyond your comprehension, perhaps in particular because the sum
of your experiences do not even provide you with the basis to be able to understand the
quality and significance of my experiences
. I was never happy to hear him describe
something as ďa-maze
-ingĒ--it always mean that he had reached a new level of satisfaction
with himself--until the day that he told me he had found an ďamazing new apartment.Ē I canít
be sure, since the sum of my experiences very well may not provide me with a basis for
understanding the true meaning of ďamazing,Ē but I think that I might have been amazingly happy
when I found out that he would be leaving my apartment and, by extension, my immediate daily
He was moving to Santa Monica, of course: of course,
because Santa Monica is where all of the amazing young aspiring people in Los Angeles
end up. Because itís amazing
. And sometimes, while these amazing young aspiring people
are living there, amazing developments occur in their lives or in their careers, and sometimes
in both. The first amazing development in the career of my amazing roommate occurred before he
had even moved to Santa Monica, when he was selected to play a small but important supporting
part in a movie that was being produced. By his father.
ďBut heís not even the one who auditioned me,Ē my roommate
told me. ďSo, you know--Thatís why I donít like to mention it to people. They get the
So be it. Everything was fine on that score until recently,
while visiting my parents in Milwaukee, I came across that direct-to-DVD movie in the local
Hollywood video. At first I didnít remember that it was his movie, but the title seemed
vaguely familiar to me, and so I picked it up. And then: there he was, staring back at me,
but from profile, floating on a Polaroid photograph amongst a sort of shower of Polaroid
photographs, or images of Polaroid photographs, which decorated the cover of the case. I
think, in the image in which he appeared, he--or, rather, his character--was getting
It was amazing how unhappy I was to see him after all
that time. It was amazing that it had not been that much time at all: only a few
months, but until that moment I had nearly succeeded in forgetting about him, and
about the year and a half during which he had gracelessly occupied the bedroom across
the hall from my bedroom, listening to fifties be-bop through his iPod and then leaving
dollops of grape and strawberry jelly, and mustard, to fester and emulsify on my kitchen
counters. As though the kitchen wasnít bad enough already! And of course
it was him.
I donít even eat
jelly, and if I did, I would have eaten it in my room, for fear that,
if I remained too long in one of the apartmentís public spaces I might run into him
worse yet both him and
his attractive but strangely weathered looking girlfriend who at
a certain point during his residence seemed to be here as much as he was.
|"I believe it was--no, wait, I donít
remember who it was, but it was somebody who holds a place of esteem in the history of the
United States, one of the signers of the constitution perhaps, somebody along those lines who,
in any event, predicted: debt will be the primary weapon used by the rich in their war against
I shouldnít extend too much cruelty in her direction: the
thing I always hated most about her was that she liked him, and also that she consented to
and participated in interminable acts of affection with him in the kitchen and the so-called
ďcommon roomĒ that is contiguous to it. Why there? Never mind that they were the two worst
rooms in the apartment when he lived here, although to my credit I should mention that Iíve
since done a significant amount of housework toward fixing them up (and should also, perhaps
against my credit, admit that the only housework I can do is the kind of housework that can
be done with a hammer and a screwdriver and a good deal of grunting and complaining). Why
not head into the bedroom? And I also hated the fact that she either perpetrated or participated
in their habit of showering together before lovemaking. I know
that they showered together
before lovemaking because they would shower together at times that were strange for showering
but very normal for lovemaking, for example after a night out on the town together, half-tipsy
and the other half drunk with lust. Do we really need to clean our genitals before
No. We need to clean our genitals after
Perhaps we need to clean our genitals before sex if they are
particularly stinky, but I happen to know--not by way of the roommate here in question but
rather by way of another
roommate with whom he was somewhat more conversational--that my
old roommateís girlfriend for reasons which remain unclear to me but must be medical had
no sense of smell. So it didnít matter if his genitals stunk and therefore I can only
conclude, based on their habit of showering before lovemaking, that it was her genitals
that stunk, and the fact that the stink of her genitals bothered him bothered me.
Everything about him bothered me. Perhaps it had nothing to do with stink. It bothered
me, nonetheless, that by way of this pre-lovemaking shower ritual, the two of them
consistently made a public albeit indirect announcement of their intention to make love.
And they werenít fucking
, either, not even having sex
. They were making
. I could tell by the way they would, sometimes, hold each other motionlessly
for minutes on end in places like the kitchen, the girlfriend and her possibly or potentially
stinking genitals behind him as he made his peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, her arms around
his waist, head turned and cheek pressed against the curve of his back, or, perhaps,
her hands flat against his chest, which, along with his shoulders, spent most of last
year engaged in a process of expansion. His acting career depended on it. Literally. He
was (and, I imagine, still is) a good-looking man in the most trifling way, square-jawed,
blue-eyed, and dimpled, but his heavy round head outsized his skinny body making him
disproportionate. This part I donít know for certain but I can only imagine that his
agent must have told him: youíre going to have to balance out that head. Protein powder
appeared, a light dusting of it often left on the counter-tops next to or on top of the
emulsifying dollops of jelly, or jam.
I could tell that he and his weirdly weathered girlfriend
made love because of the way she lay heaped or piled on top of him on the decomposing
yellow couch in the common room while they watched The Big Lebowski
on the DVD player.
They were constantly watching The Big Lebowski
--I think it was the only DVD he owned--and
when they were always like that, two sardines without the can. The Big Lebowski
cause him to laugh boisterously from time to time and I could picture her, all the way
from my room fifteen steps down the hallway, bouncing up and down with the rhythms of
his torso, and enjoying it, because this bouncing was the sensation of his joy. He was
an amazing guy. He loved her. And he loved writing plays, as well. And TV sitcom pilots.
And he loved the movies. He must have had magical experiences with them as a child and for
that reason considered himself destined to create them one day himself. He once wondered
aloud, early on when we had not yet come around to utterly hating one another, how it was
that I could watch films in bits and pieces.
ďI like to lose myself in the shape of the movie,Ē he
said to me.
Iíve heard news of him since his departure. Amazing
career development, even more amazing than the supporting role in his fatherís
movie because, as far as I know, his father has no involvement in this one: heís going
to be shooting a movie with Anna Nicole Smith. The
Anna Nicole Smith. I watched her
reality show once in a hotel room in Tacoma, Washington minutes before, or after,
failing to produce an erection during an attempt to fornicate a girlfriend Iíd long
since lost interest in fornicating. In those moments, when you are either uninterested
in or unable to fornicate a person who is expecting to be fornicated by you, the most
uninteresting things suddenly become very interesting. For example, Anna Nicole Smithís
reality television show. Well, now that my old roommate who has thus far been the subject
of this arguably amazing text is going to be starring in a movie, or at the very least
in a movie, alongside Anna Nicole Smith, Iíll never again have the television
to turn to in moments of sexual inability. Are you kidding me? Iíll never turn the
television on again
for fear that, unwittingly, because it happens to be on the channel
that is on the television when I turn it on, or because I happen to flip by it in search
of a sporting event--any sporting event will do: thumb wars, barrel lifting--Iíll come
across one of those cross-purpose entertainment celebrity tabloid promotional programmes
and heíll be on it, promoting his upcoming movie with Anna Nicole Smith. What if I turn
on the television and there he is, and before I can find the remote or get to the dial
I hear him say something like: ďTo be perfectly honest with youĒ--and here insert the
first name of the inevitable suck-up interviewing him--ďI didnít know what
from Anna Nicole. Needless to say, her reputation preceded her. Chuckle cum
But honestly, working with her was an amazing experience. Her professionalism was amazing.
People can say what they want about her. Sheís a consummate professional. She was amazingly
supportive throughout the entire process. It was really amazing.Ē
And the reason I can never turn the television on again
is that if I were to come across that, if I were to experience that, I would very seriously
have to consider killing myself, and I am not ready to accept the amazing responsibility
that comes with killing yourself. My parents would be so unhappy. They would probably
take it as some sort of censure of their parental performance and I wouldnít have that:
they were wonderful parents. I would almost go so far as to say that they were amazing
And there is a very high divorce rate amongst parents of suicide victims, or perpetrators,
or, I suppose, both, since in the case of suicide the victim is generally the perpetrator.
In any event, theyíre about to retire. The thought of them having to start over alone at
retirement is unbearable. Which is to say, in short, that I would have to have a very
good reason for committing suicide.
And seeing my old roommate on television talking about
what an amazing experience it was to work with Anna Nicole Smith, promoting his
soon-to-be-released movie with Anna Nicole Smith--that would be a pretty good reason
for committing suicide. I just canít risk it.
* * *
havenít had much of a problem finding one modest form
or another of publication for frivolous little non-fictionally and critical-theoretically
narrative pieces such as what this one is becoming, but Iíve had a good deal of trouble
finding publication of any sort, modest or otherwise, for what one person recently termed
my ďmore substantialĒ work, and perhaps that in itself--that the work I have had trouble
publishing is the more substantial work--is a valid explanation. Perhaps there are other
reasons. My more substantial work for the most part comes in the form of very long novels,
two thousand pages and up, driven almost entirely by dialogue between characters who,
according to my own mother (my own
mother), all sound the same when they talk (in another
of these relatively frivolous pieces Iíve suggested an explanation for that phenomenon).
So perhaps the work itself, substantial or otherwise, is the problem, or perhaps the
problem is with the world. I read, recently, an interview in which the interviewee, author
of a book on how to succeed in publishing a novel and why most people who write
to publish those novels (the primary reason, according to this author, according to what I
could gather from the interview, was that most of those novels are bad), suggested that the
reason that some great books will never be published, or, perhaps, will
be published, and
perhaps even eventually recognized as great, but are not succeeding now in being published,
is the same as the reason that there are books that are now published and widely distributed
and generally recognized as great which had limited if any success during their time, were
either published to little renown or not published at all: that the world is not ready for
everything at any given time. Sometimes, he suggested--and here I am paraphrasing--great
literature simply needs to wait its turn, until the world is prepared to receive it.
I have been waiting, as have the very long, very much
dialogue-driven novels that have made their way into the world--ready or not--by way of
me (I have been thinking of myself as a medium of late), but there are a couple of
significant problems with waiting, of perhaps insuperable problems:
1. Until I have published books to critical renown
and economic recompense, I cannot be both a writer and a bourgeois, and despite myself,
although I know itís wrong, I want
to be a bourgeois; or, rather, while I may not necessarily
want to be a bourgeois, I cannot survive much longer without becoming a bourgeois. Itís simply
too much work. Or, perhaps: I want to be a bourgeois despite the fact that I donít want
to be a bourgeois. I wish I didnít want to be a bourgeois but I do. The bourgeoisie doesnít own
the world but the world, which is owned by the capitalists, nonetheless is built around the needs
of the bourgeoisie, which is to say that as long as I am not a bourgeois, I am living in a world
that has not been constructed around my needs. Itís hard work. My eyes burn at the end of the
day. And until the work that I produce when I am doing the work that other more conventional people
would like for me to call ďwriting,Ē and would probably call ďwritingĒ themselves, becomes a source
not only of income but of the kind of predictable income against which you can access credit, as
long as I continue to sacrifice other possibilities for achieving that sort of income in order to
continue doing the work that most people would probably call ďwriting,Ē I simply cannot be a
bourgeois. And despite the fact that I donít want to want to be a bourgeois, or wish that I
didnít wish I was a bourgeois, I really do wish I was a bourgeois. Iím dying to be a bourgeois.
Literally. If I donít become one soon, Iím going to die. Of starvation, perhaps. Or, because
despite the fact that I am not a bourgeois Iíve had enough income to feed myself, of disease
or some other less noxious form of illness, because although Iíve been able to thus far scrape
by with the most basic non-bourgeois health insurance, eventually what canít be diagnosed and
treated in the sort of giant, filthy HMO that acts as a penultimate station for those living
below the poverty line is going to get the best of me. Or mental illness. Living in a world
made for the bourgeoisie when you are not yourself a bourgeois is a sort of mental contaminant.
Eventually you will become dysfunctionally paranoid, and for good reason at that: the world
really is out to get you. Or, rather, it is constructed around the needs of those whose needs
are not your needs--cannot be your needs because you donít have the capabilities required to
have those needs--which is the same as it being out to get you. Paranoia is justified but it
is paranoia all the same. Or crime. When you are not bourgeois, your life, essentially, becomes
a criminal act. I am not violent, in part because I am afraid, and yet I am constantly committing
criminal acts: defaulting on bills being the primary sort. I believe it was--no, wait, I donít
it was, but it was somebody who holds a place of esteem in the history of the
United States, one of the signers of the constitution perhaps, somebody along those lines who,
in any event, predicted: debt
will be the primary weapon used by the rich in their war against
the poor. Debt. One way or another, I wonít be long for this world if I donít become a
2. Until such time as I have published a novel with a mysterious
or enigmatic photograph of me on the back and at least one flattering quote regarding me and
that which others might call my writing from a literary big gun--ďEli S. Evans is a startling
new voice in American lettersĒ--my cousin (who I will not name for fear that I might disparage
him) who, last year sold his pop-up blocker company to Microsoft for an undisclosed sum of
money that was disclosed to be approximately twenty million dollars, will continue to think
that he is more successful than I am. My cousin, who grew up in a wealthy family in Long
Island while I grew up in a much less wealthy family (to the point of being not wealthy at
all) in Wisconsin, the sophistication-delayed Midwest, was always the barometer against
which I measured myself, the person I needed to be better than to be successful.
So you can see what Iím saying. For the above reasons,
and others which Iíll not here elucidate, it is clear that while the world may not be
ready, I am.
Which is to say that the world best get ready.
What is it that Prufrock says?
How to force the moment to its crisis?
Itís a question of coming up with new strategies. But Iím
a writer. Not just a writer but a writer
. Iíve read about what that means from a number
of different angles and Iím most partial, I think, to Roland Barthesí
|"How do you ask permission for something which
is not permissible? How do you enter into a game of authority knowing full well that real
authorship is the dissolution of authority, that the novel is the dissolution, moreover, of
the very possibility of authority: the space, as Milan Kundera says, in which no
one (nobody!) owns the truth?"
assertion that writers--not just writers but writers
--are people who think in sentences
I am a writer
. Not a writer. Thatís too banal. Iím a writer
. A writer who does not consider
himself a writer because the terminology is too clumsy, but acknowledges that he is a
writer for the benefit of all of those who lack the nuance to conceive of what he does
as an agent of the creation of text without making reference to the dead metaphor of
writing. I am a writer, metaphorically speaking. I think in sentences. I am no good
at thinking of anything that does not come in the form of a sentence. My mind, which
is usually full of sentences, goes blank. Strategies, for example. Strategies do not
come in the form of sentences. I donít know what they come in the form of. Obviously.
If I did, Iíd probably have some. Charts and graphs? And yet, despite all of that, Iíve
come up with a strategy. It goes like this--or, rather, first a little background.
Although Iíve managed to peal through three literary agents since I started seeking
literary agents at the age of twenty-four, Iíve never succeeded in pairing myself
with a literary agent who was able to sell my work to a publishing imprint of any
repute. Or no
repute, for that matter. I donít blame the agents, I blame the world.
All the same, blaming the world is a little too general and diffuse, so I do
the agents, despite the fact that I know that it hasnít been their fault. In any event,
I donít have an agent at the moment, if I decide that I am going to pursue
publication by way of a publishing imprint of little or no repute--I wouldnít dare
pursue publication by way of a publishing imprint of more than little to no repute
without an agent to mediate the pursuit--I am responsible for writing my own query
letters, which are the letters that you send to people who you hope will read your
work asking for permission to send them a manuscript copy or, more often than that,
a small fraction of a manuscript, of a text the creation of which can be attributed--although,
of course, fraudulently (death of the author, etc.)--to you. In short: ďDear Sir, and etc.
etc. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Eli S. Evans, and etc. etc. You have not heard
of me. Obviously. Which is why I am writing you this letter. Over the years, I have
written etc. etc. and now I have decided is the time to pursue publication and etc.
for the etc. etc. that I have written over the years. The world, I believe, is ready.
Perhaps you would be the ideal outlet for that publication. I would like to send you
something to consider. Perhaps ten pages of my most recent etc., which you could consider
at your leisure, more than likely three to six months, and decide whether or not you would
like to grant me permission to send you my most recent etc. in its entirety, or perhaps
another portion of my most recent etc. for you to spend another three to six months
considering. Or perhaps you would like to give me permission to send you a summary of
my most recent etc., which is, of course, precisely that which cannot be summarized,
for if it were something that could be summarized it would not be etc. but rather etc.
All the same, perhaps if the summary piques your interest you would invite me to send
on a portion of the manuscript of my most recent etc., or any other etc. for that matter,
and etc. etc. With your permission, it would be an honour to do so. Yours, etc.,
Eli S. Evans.Ē
The problem is that those letters, which are your
opportunity to distinguish yourself from the other two hundred people who have sent
a letter to the same person, which has arrived on the same day, are nearly impossible.
How do you ask permission for something which is not permissible? How do you enter into
a game of authority knowing full well that real authorship is the dissolution of authority,
that the novel is the dissolution, moreover, of the very possibility
of authority: the
space, as Milan Kundera says, in which no one
(nobody!) owns the truth?
But I have an idea.
For a letter.
My name is Eli S. Evans and I am writing in the
hopes that you will consider for publication with your imprint my most recent etc.,
a manuscript copy of which I have enclosed with this letter. I would also like to inform
you that right now, as of the moment of the composition of this letter, I am twenty-nine
years old, and furthermore to make you aware that I have recently come to a decision. This
decision was based on a number of different considerations, including the fact that until a
writer has succeeded in publishing at least one book to critical renown, that writer cannot
be a writer, which is to say, a person who spends his time doing that which people who are
not writers generally call writing, or, rather, cannot spend the time that most people spend
working instead doing what most people who are not writers would consider writing, and also
have a bourgeois existence, and also including a consideration of the fact that this is a
bourgeois world and those who are not bourgeois are condemned to live on the outside looking
in. In short, my decision is as follows: if a publishing imprint of at least minimal renown
does not accept for publication at least one of my etc. etc. before the event of my thirtieth
birthday, I will commit suicide. What does this mean to you, sir? Does it mean that you should,
in order to prevent me from committing suicide, accept for publication the etc. a manuscript
copy of which I have here enclosed, or, for that matter, accept for publication any other etc.
manuscript copies of which have not here been enclosed, but which I would gladly send on to
you? Perhaps not. And, in any event, I would hope that if you do accept for publication any
etc. etc. which can, according to certain outdated conventions, be attributed to me, you do
so based on nothing other than the quality of the etc. itself. I am simply informing you of
I look forward to your prompt reply.
Yours and sincerely, etc. etc.,
Eli S. Evans
It would be an interesting trick. I would be like Melvilleís
Bartleby, throwing around a weight that does not exist, particularly given the fact that any
recipient of such a letter would inevitably be somebody who would not care one way or another,
nor a single iota, whether I live or die, having to the point of having received that letter
invested nothing in me, nor knowing me personally, and thus having no reason
to care whether I
live or die. And yet it worked for Bartleby. And besides, a little bit of knowledge can go a
long way. Javier MarŪas begins the first volume of his most recent but as yet unfinished novel
(volume two ended, much as volume one, in a cliff-hanger, and volume three has not yet been
published and who but MarŪas knows truly whether or not it has even been written)--a first
volume about which I have written in another of these frivolous little pieces which has,
despite my output of more substantial work, been published--with a long meditation on knowing
and having been told, a meditation which concludes that to know, or to have been told, is a
condemnation, for once we know, or once we have been told, we can never escape the obligation
of our knowledge. ďOne,Ē he says, ďshould never tell anybody anything,Ē and why? Because to
tell is a gift, but it is also a link
, the Spanish word is vŪnculo
, and a vŪnculo
MarŪas says, a knot, or perhaps more likely than that it involves you, but the word MarŪas
uses, which I have here translated as involves
, is actually a conjugation of the verb enredar
which outside of this specific context, or translated more precisely, means to tangle up
Or, in other words, he who receives such a letter from me,
despite himself, against his will, is not simply involved in this mess Iíve created; heís
tangled up in it. And he can escape this involvement, this tangle into which Iíve entered
him, no more than he can go backwards in time, no more than he can un-know
that which now,
through no effort or exertion of his own, he knows. And all of this is to say that now
that I have informed him of this plan of mine, to commit suicide upon turning thirty if
I have not yet had accepted for publication by etc. imprint, a more or less reputable
publishing imprint, my most recent or, for that matter, any other etc., he bears some
responsibility for the outcome. A year from now, he could pick up a newspaper and read
that in such and such place and at such and such time, Eli S. Evans, thirty years old,
hanged himself, or tossed himself from such and such precipice or natural suspended structure,
or shot himself not in the heart, which would imply love or the absence thereof, but rather
in the head, the temple, in the brain, fulfilling a promise he had made to himself x
of years or months ago, to commit suicide at the age of thirty if he had not yet succeeded
in having one of his books at the very least accepted for publication. And it will, in part,
be his fault, the fault of he who has received this letter from me, who received this letter
from me sometime after my twenty-ninth birthday but before my thirtieth, because he knew
despite himself he knew, and could have done something, could have intervened, had in his
hands the power to take that or those actions which would have prevented this suicide, this
death-before-his-time, from coming to pass. Whether he wanted to have the power or not is
what Iím saying; that though he may not have ever wanted to have had the power to have any
influence on whether or not some person he never met from some place he would never go writing
some texts that would never be of interest to him, economic or otherwise, did or did not kill
himself at the age of thirty, he did
have the power: because not only could
he have taken such
action or engaged such behaviour that this did not happen, but he knew
that it would happen
what action he could take or behaviour he could engage in to keep it from happening,
and did not.
And therefore, despite himself, regardless of the justice of
it, if this happens he will to some extent be to blame.
It worked for Bartleby.
Itís a plan.
It probably wonít work and there are those who, reading of it,
will probably suggest that there is absolutely no integrity in a suicide threat, and to them
I would reply that there is no integrity in threatening suicide to a person who cares whether
you live or die, but perhaps there is great
integrity in threatening suicide to a person who
could care less
whether you live or die, and perhaps even more integrity in the threat when
this person is a person who holds some economic authority over you. Something more than passive
resistance or aggression. Judo. You, who have no weight, using theirs against them.
I imagine the Sir
to whom such a letter would be directed ensconced
in his office, glancing over it, his hand already moving to crumple the paper, suddenly taking
pause, gasping for air, realizing that now the possibility of my suicide belongs to him, a
solemn responsibility whether you ask for it or not.
No, Iím sure it would never work.
But maybe it would.
And, if it did, at that, probably indirectly. We know how the
story would have to go: of course no publishing executive would fall for such a cheap trick.
But the world is small and travels around itself in circles. Perhaps the publishing executive,
himself thinking of the opening passage of the first volume of Javier MarŪasí most recent and
still-in-progress novel, or thinking less referentially about responsibility and knowledge
and the irrevocable forward march of time, perhaps troubled by this and not knowing quite
how to react or what to think, mentions it to a friend of his who, perhaps, I donít know,
works for the New York Times
, the New York Times
Magazine, and the friend thinks it would
make an interesting story, the desperation of the struggling artist, the young artist, the
relation between art and age, success and age, and decides to do a story on it, and the
story converts me in if not a celebrity--that would be too much--and object of interest,
of recognition, the story lends me credibility although it might not be all that flattering
a story, and by way of the credibility lent me by the story, and perhaps by the multiplication
of the story in all of the other media of communication that purchase the rights to it and
reprint it, I, as author, as personality, become commodified, and as a result of that
commodification of me, some publishing executive at some imprint of some repute decides
that it could be a profitable endeavour to publish one of these two thousand page novels
of mine, one of these utterly quixotic absurdities, absolutely unpublishable books written
to use that old word, by an author, to use that
old word, so desperate to publish his texts
that he would rather die, by his own
hand, than confront the failure to do so. It would be
a cheap trick, I know. But the world is filled
with cheap tricks. Anna Nicole Smith, for
And what if it worked? Wouldnít that
* * *
hain letters, for example, operate according to this
same principle. Iím talking about the chain letters that level threats. Often they balance
those threats with promises of good luck, as well: if you donít
send the letter to x number
of other people, then x y and z misfortunes will befall you and those you love, but if you
do then such and such good
fortune. But the promises of good fortune hardly matter. Itís the
threats that count. Itís because of the threats that chain letters work, and, I would imagine,
the threats against others, against your loved
ones, against anyone
, are more powerful in that
respect than the threats against the actual recipient. Because it could
be true. It probably
isnít true that if you donít send this letter to ten people, or fifteen people or eight or
whatever the number happens to be, misfortune will befall your mother, brother, father, wife,
lover, but the threat has been made, you have read it, the letter is in your hands, and
now, what if it does? What if it doesÖ
You send the letter on because if it does
happen, because if
great misfortune does
befall your mother in eight daysí time, or whatever the promised interval
is, you will have known, and you will, despite knowing, not have acted.
This is the hypothesis, as it were: that knowing, having been told,
forces us into action, for fear of having known and not acted; because once we know, we are
I received a chain letter of that nature in high school, addressed
, with Christian overtones, and panicked. At the time, despite the absence of religion in
my family, I was experimenting with taking Judaism seriously, and for that reason was terrified
of participating in a chain letter which promoted a decidedly Christian agenda. But I was also
terrified of the promise of bad luck and misfortune for me and, more importantly, for my family.
I could not send it. But if I did not and what had been threatened came to pass?
I took the letter to synagogue and showed it to my cantor,
who probably did not quite understand what I was going through.
I donít think many chain letters come in the mail these days;
most of them come via email, and I get one from time to time, and always, indiscriminately,
even against curiosity, refuse to read them.
I donít want to know.
But Iím thinking of the hypothetical Sir
who receives my
He wonít know. There is no precedent for such correspondence. By the time he realizes that he
should not read it will be too late and heíll have read it, and heíll know. And once you know
there is no going back. Itís like trying to go back to a dream once youíve already woken up.
Calderůn de la Barca: La Vida Es SueŮo
. You canít do it. Neither drugs nor stupefaction. Not
even the force of the state military. You canít forget that it was a dream. You canít forget
that now you are awake. You canít undo that you have been told, that you have been warned,
that the power to act has been placed in your hands consequent of what you have been told.
* * *
ím thinking, even, that I can never turn the television on
again, for fear that Iíll stumble across
|"For Girard, the French critic, suggests that hatred and the
desire to be are two sides of the same coin, and who knows which comes first? Girard suggests
that either we hate the person who is what we desire to be, or has what we desire to
have because theoretically it is because that person is what we desire to be or has what we
desire to have."
some sitcom and, just as I do, my old roommate,
who I cannot name for the particular reason that Iím trying to disparage him, will walk
through a door, the way that people are always walking through doors in sitcoms. I donít
want to have to consider suicide. I am
, according to the above paragraphs, considering
suicide, although I wonít, but even if I did, the threat would not be in
earnest, for I would not really consider it. But if I turned the television on and a
sitcom happened to be on the channel the television happened to be on when I turned it
on, and at precisely that moment my old roommate who here shall remain unnamed walked
through a door in that strange unnatural fashion in which people are always walking
through doors on television sitcoms, I would have to actually
consider suicide, and
I really donít want to do that. I hate him that much.
Or perhaps in fact I desire to be
For Girard, the French critic, suggests that hatred and the
desire to be are two sides of the same coin, and who knows which comes first? Girard suggests
we hate the person who is what we desire to be, or has
what we desire to
, because theoretically it is because that person is what we desire to be or has what we
desire to have that we are not or do not, that theoretically it is precisely
who stands between us and what we want to be or to have (a limited resources, supply and
demand kind of situation); or
that our desires are essentially triangulated by the person
we hate, which is to say that what we desire is in fact
what properly should belong to the
person we hate, and that the reason we desire it is to keep that
person from having it,
or being it, in other words, to become
the obstacle that stands between that
his destiny; or that what we hate
is in fact what we most desire, and, therefore, because
it is what we most desire, what we most fear failing to achieve or become, and so, out of
fear, neurotically or pathologically, we hate it.
It is possible, Girard, the French critic, suggests, that in
fact what we end up striving to be or to have is in the end exactly the opposite of that which
want to be or to have because we are, neurotically or pathologically, so afraid of
failing to acquire or to achieve that which we most want to be or to have, that we must
eliminate entirely the very possibility of even trying, and we do this by hating it.
Itís a convoluted logic, but in the end it works.
And whatever the case may be, my hatred for or desire to be my
old roommate either because I hate him or, I should say, I hate him because
I desire to be
him, or, I donít know--whatever it is, it may at the very least, cure me of my television
habit. Thatís what I was trying to get around to with all of this.
But I donít even have
a television habit!
This whole thing is amazing.
* * *
o you know what I fucking hated about my old roommate?
That he believed that a sitcom could be good
. He believed that there were good
and bad sitcoms. He wanted to write a good sitcom. He took himself seriously. He took
himself seriously as a writer, and he wanted to write a good sitcom. I hated him because
he was a writer who, in a zone of pure language, language without language, would still
have called himself a ďwriter.Ē He would have said: ďI am a writer.Ē I hated him because
he did not seem to understand that a sitcom is not good
. Good sitcom, bad sitcom. Or I
hated him because I can write thousands of pages, three thousand pages a year, twenty
pages a day, I can write a thousand books a thousand different times. I could even
write a sitcom, but I could never write a sitcom. Something like that. I hated him
because he was an actor who took his craft seriously. Not seriously but solemnly.
Seriously is one thing. I can tolerate an actor, even if he is acting in a movie
with Anna Nicole Smith, taking his work seriously. But I canít tolerate an actor
taking his work solemnly
, approaching it with solemnity and respect, for the craft,
for its history, and then accepting a role in a movie with Anna Nicole Smith. I donít
know anything about Anna Nicole Smith. But I live in Los Angeles, Iíve lived here for
four years--I once even dated a young blonde aspiring actor who I eventually failed to
fornicate in a hotel in Tacoma, WA--and so Iím familiar with the argument that the young
aspiring actors who consider themselves artists
and their acting art
make when they go on
auditions for roles in McDonalds commercials or movies with Anna Nicole Smith: that whatever
the role, and whatever the production, each individual actor has the opportunity to seek
truth in it, to bring humanity to it, and so to make art out
But thatís not true. Thatís a fucking lie. Art is what
happens when the rest of the world is stripped away, but in particular
when power and
economics are stripped away. Movies with Anna Nicole Smith, or any
or otherwise-breasted Hollywood star, movies that participate in capitalized chains of
profit and exploitation, are themselves
networks of power and economics, and in those
movies--or, I should say, in that
movie, since itís always the same
I wonít hate you for doing it, for accepting the role,
for appearing in the movie, but Iíll hate you for approaching it with solemnity.
I hated him because he had the fucking gall to believe
life was amazing
. I hated him for everything that implied. I hated him because
he believed that if he wrote a pilot sitcom episode that was good
enough, a television
network would buy it and produce it. I hated him because when I went into my room to sit
at my computer I was working
, and when he went into his
room to sit at his
, and in so doing he was assassinating the holy spiritual centre of my spiritual
holiness, and there was nothing amazing about that.
Which is to say that I didnít hate him at all, Girard might say,
but rather that I wanted to be him. Or, perhaps: that I wanted to be him because
I hated him,
in order to prove to him that he was no more capable than me, or perhaps even in order to prevent
him from being himself, the person he was destined to be. That because I hated him I secretly wanted
to be him, or, perhaps, that because I secretly wanted to be him I hated him, that I had
to hate he
who was what I secretly wanted to be in order to reconcile myself to this incredible fear I had that
I would fail to ever be
that. I donít know. I guess I really didnít hate him, anyway, he just sort of
got on my nerves. I thought he was a little too cocky and a little too satisfied with himself. I didnít
like his ideas about art and literature. But who am I trying to fool? Here I am wondering whether I
wanted to be him because I hated him or hated him because I wanted to be him, and meanwhile, to most of
the world, I already was
him; we already were each other
. I mean, I see these gulfs of difference between
us, but the truth is that Iím making incredibly fine distinctions. Letís see. Both of us about six feet
tall and white with dark hair. Both of us in our twenties. Living in the same city and, for over a year,
in the same apartment
. At first I was driving a Toyota and he was driving a Honda, both of which rolled
off the assembly line in the mid-nineties. Now we are both driving newer and better made station wagons
(although I think more highly of mine, of course). Both of us spent a good deal of time in our rooms,
across the hall from one another, doing what most people in the world would consider, or call, writing.
I even call it writing if I am discussing it or referring to it with somebody of whose linguistic, literary,
or textual positioning I am uncertain, just to be sure that we are understanding each other. I, of course,
on an Apple computer, and he on some IBM compatible device.
The differences were astounding.
But, of course, they were not. If hatred is rooted in the desire to be,
or produces the desire to be, then how could I possibly have hated him?
I think I hated him because if he thought that his life was amazing
then what must that have meant about what he must have thought about my
But I didnít hate him. I found him irritating. I found myself rooting
against him, whatever that means. I wanted his life to deny him the opportunity to be amazed by it.
I wanted him to struggle the way that I struggle. Who was he to be so amazed?
* * *
should have slipped a note under his door.
Your happiness is killing me.
Just so he knew.
But I donít really even know if he was happy.
* * *
nd just when you were starting to think that this essay wasnít anything,
really, but an aggressive deconstruction of the use and notion of the amazing
Iíll be the first to say it. Sometimes life really is amazing.
This summer, for example. I was staying, for work, in a student residence near the sea in Barcelona.
That in itself wasnít amazing. Iíve been to Barcelona at least twelve times in my life, and besides,
I much prefer Madrid, and, in Spain, between those two rival cities, itís sort of a one or the other
situation. If you love one, you hate the other, and vice versa. The two cities officially hate each
other. But Barcelona is okay. I donít hate it, or, if I do, I hate it only because it has failed to
be Madrid. I am there, for work, two or three weeks out of every summer, and I enjoy my time there
despite the pervasive smell of garbage and faeces. But that isnít what was amazing, either. What was
amazing was this. One day, shortly after my arrival in the city, I shaved, which in and of itself
wasnít amazing, although it had been a couple of weeks since I had shaved and some of the people I
was working with were amazed to see me looking so clean and proper. But in any event, that amazement
is not the amazement I am here referring to. What was amazing occurred after
I had shaved but before
anyone else had seen me. It had something to do with the size of the bathroom in my room in the student
residence near the sea in Barcelona, that size being small. There wasnít much room for anything. A small
glass shelf screwed into the wall above the sink, but that was occupied with my dental hygiene products.
So after I had taken out my can of shaving cream to shave for the first time since I had arrived in Barcelona,
and because I did not want to put it, moist and splattered with its own disembowelled contents, back into my
bag, I ended up setting it on top of the toilet, a decision which was in itself not amazing but most
definitely preceded that which was amazing. Shortly thereafter, having not yet left my room since shaving,
I needed to urinate, which, again, was not amazing at all, but would indeed become a part of the concert of
events and decisions which created that which was amazing. So I urinated, which was not amazing in and of
itself, and then went, with my right hand, to flush the toilet, pressing the knob that was on the left
side of the toilet, a configuration of movement that I would not consider amazing considering the fact
that I am, unfortunately, right-handed (I might have made the major leagues if I was a left-hander). In
so doing, the forearm of my right arm sort of swept across the top of the toilet on which the can of
shaving cream was resting, and knocked it into the toilet, but it all happened too fast. My body had
already committed itself to the memorized movements of flushing a toilet, and before I was able to
process what had happened, Iíd already flushed the toilet. In a panic, I plunged my hand into the
swirling swill of urine, and even managed to get a hold on the can of shaving cream, but it was
too slippery, or I was not strong enough, or the force of the flush was too powerful: it pulled
out of my grasp and flushed down the toilet.
And Iím not talking about one of these miniature cans of shaving cream
(although nor am I referring to the very thick older style of shaving cream can). Iím talking about a
full-sized can of Gillette brand shaving gel, or gelatin.
It was incredible.
I stood over the toilet waiting for it to come back, but it didnít.
I got onto my knees to examine the pipe as it ran from the back of the toilet into the wall. It
curved at an impossible angle. I mean, a rigid can of shaving cream could not possibly pass
And yet it had.
It never came back. I stood waiting for a minute or two. Eventually,
holding my breath, half-expecting an explosion, I flushed the toilet again. The water went down
I continued using the toilet for at least ten more days without a
It was like the Hanukah miracle, but involving toilets and shaving
cream rather than burning oil. I had flushed a can of shaving cream down the toilet, and it had
I continue to be amazed.
* * *
hat was over a month ago, now. Since then Iíve returned, by way
of my parentsí house in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to my loft apartment in mid-city Los Angeles, where,
since my return, I have acquired, in exchange for my old car, a new computer. It was a revolutionary
move in certain ways: for years Iíve done all of my work on laptops, but this time I bought a desktop.
Things are changing. A sense of permanence? A commitment to place?
Perhaps Iím simply trying to keep my life dynamic.
Iíve stayed with the Apple brand, in any event. The other kind of
change would represent not a change of sense of place or situation but of character and personality,
and Iím not willing to go that far. Yet.
In any case, you get so much more for your money when you spend it
on a desktop style computer. My processor is so much faster than my old processor. Things are being
processed all over the place. Even as Iím working on one of these frivolous, unsubstantial little
narratives, I can, if I decide, open my internet browser and take a quick turn or two around the web.
I could do a Google brand web search on myself if it werenít so pathetic.
But I did just, between the text that came before the above asterisk
and that which is now coming after, run a Google brand search on the word amazing
, which returned
me one hundred and forty-four million results--quite a few more than the forty something I receive
when I run a Google brand search on myself--and for a moment I thought I would end there. A hundred
and forty-four million amazements on the world wide web.
Then the real ending occurred to me, and so I opened my browser
back up and this time ran a Google brand search on the word hate
, fully expecting--for clearly the
narrative demands it, has written this ending for itself--for it to return at least
forty-four million and one
results because, of course, that just proves my point, which is what
Iíve been trying to say all along. That, obviously, thereís more hate than wonder in this world,
and thatís what people like my old roommate are too wrapped up in themselves to understand.
2004-2006 the Dublin Quarterly--to see familiar things with unfamiliar eyes!