“Seveneves”, by Neal Stephenson

Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson

seveneves

Seveneves, Neal Stephenson’s newest science fiction novel published in 2015, clocks in at about 860 pages and presents interesting and hopeful ways in which humanity might preserve itself after an apocalyptic event. It is a roller coaster of a science fiction novel – a firework – and there are several reasons for that. The topics it deals with – ranging from possibilities in scientific engineering, political conflict, as well as ethics in genetics (genethics?) – is one. Stephenson looks at the various ways in which humanity might deal with an astrophysical event that most likely will not happen in real life, but is still not completely impossible.

The narrative atmosphere kicks in at the very beginning – as does the plot; in the novel’s first sentence, the moon inexplicably blows up. People on Earth – scientists, politicians, doctors, cab drivers, royal families, Buddhists monks alike – as well as on the International Space Station – engineers working on projects not associated with the moon’s blowing up – all either accidentally witness the event in real life, or understand what has happened after seeing the remains of the moon swirling in space. They all give their own personal, immediate opinion on the matter. At first it seems like a beautiful thing to look at but after a little investigation it turns out the consequences are far more dire than what the everyman might have imagined.

The reader gets to follow a group of highly regarded smart people as they investigate and try to understand the reasons for the moon blowing up. One of these personalities is astronomer Dubois Jerome Xavier Harris, Ph.D., who works from Earth to make calculations on what might be expected to happen in the coming years, and how the people on Earth should prepare. On the International Space Station, the readers meet Ivy Xiao and Dinah MacQuarie, who both get discharged from their projects they were busy with before the event in order to focus all their energy on teaming up with astronomers and other scientists down on Earth with finding answers.

But these three aren’t the only ones. By far. They might have the most important roles at the beginning of the book, but as events unfold, more and more characters are introduced. Don’t get me wrong; by no means does Stephenson utilize too many, or at any point use irrelevant characters in the narrative. What I was personally surprised to find out, was that the people I thought was the protagonists, not necessarily was. And this worked the other way as well; characters introduced at the end of one chapter might have a bigger importance than what I originally thought. By the end of the book it was almost like reading a completely different novel. (But only almost.)

The use of literary characters in Seveneves is another element that makes it a firework of a science fiction novel.

Science fiction, to me, is the ultimate transgression. No other literary genre walks the fine line between what is real and what is imaginary. Only in science fiction is an author able to play with the unlikely-but-not-impossible. It is in science fiction people can create what today seems laughable but might be true tomorrow. Stephenson is no exception. He manages this incredibly well, sketching out possibilities not only associated with scientific engineering, but with the dilemmas accompanying taking control of the use of human genetics as well. The moon blows up in the first sentence; but other problems and consequences arise that I will not explain as it would be a spoiler (read the book!), but what I need to say in order to make my next praise is that humans need to find a new way of living if they are to persevere. It’s an “ultimately uplifting” (Financial Times, on the back of the book) story, I agree. But the meat of it does not strike me as uplifting. Nor is it directly pessimistic. There is a narrative distance in the way the narrator conveys the events, and the characters in the novel all seem to be very realistic and not very Romantic (with a capital R), nor nostalgic about what they all eventually know what will happen. They have problems, complications and troubles they need to deal with, and that’s what they do.

Stephenson has no problems relating these troubles and complications. It is almost like reading an architectural blue print of a planned building. Not that I ever have read one of those. But the point is, as I was reading the various structures Stephenson imagines, I was lost in my thoughts, trying to envision them as I read. Which is something any author of any fiction should strive to make the reader do.

However, this presents a potential problem in the narrative. The finely written descriptions of the various structures sometimes come in the way of plot advancement. This is not only evident in parts where structures are being described, but does also become true when explaining the history of the plot, or of the various new characters that come into play. To me, this could at times be distracting. When I was focused on the plot, and wanted it to proceed forward, Stephenson was busy accounting for, and explaining, the nature of something periphery to the immediate narrative action. That being said, I was never bored while reading Seveneves. In fact, on the contrary; Stephenson’s narrative power never dulls, and he keeps it interesting even in places where the plot might have been put on pause in order for other elements to be conveyed. The power in his storytelling is so consistent, that – as I mentioned earlier – it keeps true to itself from the very first sentence to the last part of the book. (The part that I felt like belonged to a different book completely. Because of the narrative power – among other reasons, of course -, I knew I was still reading the same book, even if it felt like a different one.)

A sidenote: As I was writing this post, it came to my attention that Skydance Media has hired William Broyles Jr., Ron Howard and Brian Grazer to adapt the novel into a feature length film. Very cool news, I will most definitely be looking out for more news on this!

 

~ milk

 

 

 

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Propositions for a new religion in five steps. A manifest of sorts.

So you want to build a system of belief? Don’t know where to begin? Have the existential dread finally gotten a hold on you for good? Fret not lost one – here is the solution to how you can put the power in your own hands. It’s also super fashionable to be a part of a cult right now. This season’s colour is sacrifical red and wicca beige.

  1. Find a cool symbol to be your “cross” or “Star of David”.

This is really hard, because you want your design to be timeless, but also effortless in a way. Your followers must be able to understand the depiction, or at least be able to simplify it, so that the least artistic person in your religion can draw it, if not good, then understandable. Internet is full to the brim of talented artist. They’ll cook you up a design in a jiffy (or should I say gif.phy).

2. The holy scripture.

A book? A scroll? Personally I’m really into carved stone tablets. What about Lapis Lazuli? HAVE YOU CONSIDERED ALL CAPS? If you want your religion to be more “technologic”, why not try a memory stick or a microchip? This might however backfire and look pretty dated in just a few years. I knew this cultist once who had all of his mystic lore on a floppy disk. It looks kind of dumb now. Especially since his religion was all about technology and innovation. The easiest medium for people to grasp is per now still a book. You can do an e-book though, as a compromise. It’s all up to you anyway! I know a lady who reads “Infinite Jest” right now, and she tells me it’s a post-modern masterwork. Why not just make a post-modern masterwork with religious motifs?

3. Clothing.

Let’s be honest, a cool looking robe is one of the best things about a religion/cult/cabal/group (RCCG for short). If you worship the sun (the star, not the newspaper (in this example (I’d refrain from worshiping commercial products as that often warrants lawsuits and/or questions from the taxman about sponsorship and how much you earn contra how much you don’ pay taxes since you’re a religion and not a charity/business)) I’d go for a bright yellow robe with circular designs). I’m partial to a dark red or a medium brown attire. I’m pretty classic there. Religion is all about being or not being classy. You can have a religion revolving red wine and discussions about post-modern masterworks like “Infinite Jest”, or you can have raunchy sex cults with knife cutting and scarring. The fun is in the making! A pro tip is to go for a baggy outfit as you will probably get followers in all sizes and shapes. Unless you have a religion specifically catered to a certain type – which I think is wrong and quite frankly discriminating.

4. Location or place of religious activities.

Gentrify an old community center or an abandoned computer store.  Blockbusters are also all the rage right now. If you need profit you can always just flip some properties and expand your branch. The nice thing about not paying tax is exactly that. As long as you are spending money for the greater good of the religion you have in mind. Churches seldom makes for the most vital houses for a gentrified part of town, unless you could call apple-stores and coffeehouses churches. And yes, a lazy person would draw similarities between mac users and religion, but that is a picture we’re done with, right?

5. Community Outreach.

Will you be out in the streets preaching your dogma, or meet in secret? Will you actively go out of your way to recruit new members or will you have insane initiation requirements? In my experience, the more elite it seems, the more people are inclined to join. Especially if the name of the movement has a “V” instead of an “U” in it. Like INVITVS, or TRANSMVTALISTS. It looks classy and ancient. I’d refrain from using it if it clashes with the word itself. Examples includes these failed religions, ANAL LVBISTS, or MVST LOVE DOGS (this one was a critical analysis circle who exclusively watched the 2005 classic movie starring among others, John Cusack, Christopher Plummer, Stockard Channing, and who can forget Kirk Trutner as Deli Boy (must not be mistaken for Kirk Trvtner, as he doesn’t exist). Community outreach is by far the most visible your deity will be for the uninitiated.

And there you have it. The five steps of brick to build a cathedral (figurative or literal). The mortar is YOU, and the fellows who join you in this revolutionary new branch of enlightenment. As a final tip I’d recommend to stay hydrated, eat in moderation, exercise regularly etc. But hey, don’t let me tell you what to do – I’d rather you tell me.

enlightnemntRemember that reflection is the roller-blades of enlightenment. [Illustration photo: literally the first photo when googling ‘enlightenment stock photo’].

~Peanut

Thinking about Gothic spaces and where it leaves us.

(1.)

One thing you might ask yourself whilst reading a scary novel, is: ‘what’s (or who’s) behind the door?’ It’s part of the suspense, part of the fun. It’s part of the point. It’s the reason why you decide to read the book in the first place. You want your pulse to rise, you want to sit on the edge of the seat, and barely be able to continue reading the passage. How far can you go? Where is your limit? And as you keep going, you keep pushing the boundaries of what’s normal, the boundaries get further and further apart, you discover new land, you set a new standard of what is normal. That is, in a nutshell, part of what the Gothic literature is about.

The Gothic has been around us for a long time, in different mediums and genres. But since Horace Walpole wrote what is considered to be the first Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, all the way back at the end of 1764, the Gothic literary tradition has been met with a range of criticism[1]. One of the more stable of these, one the tradition has met throughout the years with various force, is the notion that Gothic literature is low-brow literature, ‘trash’, not deemed worthy of highly intellectual individuals and the academic establishment. (Even though this criticism is present to a certain degree also today, there is interestingly enough an abundance of Gothic courses being taught at university level thoroughout the Western world.)

Part of the reason the novels written in the Gothic style was subject of much of this type of criticism might date back to the fact that many of the most popular authors of early Gothic fiction were women, and thus wrote about and represented what was morally important to the ‘second sex’. (Again ironic, as without the contribution of these authors, the Gothic might’ve looked very different today than what is does. They were, after all, the ones who persisted through the criticism.) Gothic tropes such as melancholia, failed romantic relations, narratives over-emphazised on emotions etc. These are all examples of tropes that were important in the early ‘female’ Gothic.

Despite being criticised, the Gothic tradition no doubt has been growing since its beginning. I mentioned the growth of Gothic literary courses throughout universities in the Western world. But we do not only see remains of the Gothic tradition in literature, it also scopes over various other forms of media such as film, TV and even music. (The easiest accessible, most popular and mainstreamed part of the Gothic in today’s culture, is in my opinion ‘horror’.) Where would what we know today as zombies and vampires be, if not for the artistic and eerie imagination of the Gothic masters of decades ago?[2]

Through the criticism, the Gothic has prevailed, and one thing still stands true as an important and invaluable trope; You’re afraid of what you don’t know. You’re afraid of the dark. Afraid of what’s (who’s?) on the other side of the door. (Or, classically, under the bed/in the closet).

(2.)

Connected to this is the use of fictional spaces. How an author uses spaces determine the level of the reader’s suspense (and, by extension, fear). Especially is this important in what I regarded as the ‘most popular part of the modern Gothic’, the subgenre horror. Because ‘horror’ is supposed to be scary, and in order to set this up and make the reader ask this question in the first place, the author needs to use fictional spaces. This might be physical as well as abstract. Physical: You might imagine, in your head as you’re reading this, a well-lit corridor. The walls are painted a light red and the lights on the walls are symmetrically alligned, a soft and welcomed light flowing from the lamps. You are walking straight forward in it. Are you scared? Is the corridor scary? Probably not, because we can see everything there. And we are not afraid of the light. But you might still be scared of something. The physical space, in this example, is not scary. Therefore, the abstract space might be.

The use of physical fictional spaces is easily recognisable as a reader, and also, maybe, the easiest way for an author to construct fear and unpleasantness in the reader. The abstract way of using space to construct fear and unpleasantness, however, might be a little more difficult to recognise; but all the more valuable and strong in force. The novel Rosemary’s Baby, already mentioned in a blogpost on this site, is, to me, one of the better ways in which abstract space is used to make the reader uncomfortable and surrounded by uncanny-ness (uncanniness?). Here, truth and fiction, reality and falseness, interact in order to make both the real reader and the fictional participants ask themselves questions such as did that just happen? or wait, but wasn’t that just a dream? (you’re welcome to read the post about Rosemary’s Baby further down if you’re interested in specific details.) Who can I trust? and who’s telling the truth? Indeed, questions such as these are arguably normal in the Gothic as a whole. An example at the top of my head from The Castle of Otranto is a scene where one of the characters sees a person in a portait move within the frames of the painting. Here, as in Rosemary’s Baby, the physical spaces interact with the abstract ones to construct a feeling of unpleasantness, uncanniness, and, most importantly,insecurity concerning what is real and what is not[3]. Did that person actually just move? Or is it my imagination? Or is it somewhere between, perhaps? (but how would that work? did my imagination make it move in reality? do I have telekinetic powers? did my abstract imagination control the real painting?) Asking questions like this also opens up for a discussion surrounding what, or who, is sane, and insane – and what does it mean to be insane? It adds a new dimension, a new trope frequently used in Gothic means. Take the movie Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010), as an example.

The author utilizes and combines both physical and abstract spaces in order to scare us. When this is done, something else might protrude to the theory; metanarrative.[4] What I would like to cast light upon, is the ways in which the author uses the reader to make the reader afraid. This makes for a superb and intense reading experience. A marvellous book that exemplifies this perfectly, is Bret Easton Ellis’s Lunar Park. If you haven’t already, I recommend you read it. Ellis starts off with swearing to the reader that what follows in the next pages is not fiction, and that it’s all true. The fictional protagonist’s name is Bret Eastion Ellis,which contributes in making it more trustworthy.[5] It then goes on to describe a series of encounters between the protagonist and a person he doesn’t know, and is always unable to see clearly. The problem is, noone except from the protagonist is able to see this person[6]. Again, questions surrounding whether or not the events the protagonist is witness to, is real, or just a result from his imagination. The new point I want to make in brining this particular novel up, however, is this is a way of making the reader scared of himself. The author Bret Easton Ellis is fictionalising himself, thus distancing himself from himself. He is de-subjectifying himself from himself, and attempting to exist as a fictional individual. As he is doing so, he is trying to breach into the lines and sentences on the page. The fictional Bret Easton Ellis, on the other hand, is doing the opposite; He is trying to break out of the convensions set up by the real Bret Easton Ellis. He wants to know how its like to be a real person. And as the reader is reading the passages in this book, he or she might start feeling the same. A novel is supposed to make the reader feel empathy with the characters and protagonists, but it is questionable whether or not Ellis manages this by breaching the boundaries between fiction and realities; It is be more difficult for the reader to know what is real and not, and as a result, spends more time trying to figure this out instead of trying to visualise him/herself in the shoes of the protagonist.

And so we are back at where we started. We covered one of the main tropes in the Gothic, and one of the main criticism the Gothic tradition has received since the very start of its existence. We looked at some example of how this might look in practice, and asked ourselves rhetorical questions concerning the legibility and effect of these examples. As and end note, I would like to reassure the reader that this post, no matter the signs of the opposite, is, has been and always will be, real.

~ milk

————————————————————————–

[1] One example in the text. Others might include: morally unfit for children/immature audience, misrepresentation of gender/ gender stereotypes, unnecessary depiction of physical/body horror (especially the transgressive fictions of Chuck Palahniuk)

[2] I.E the contributors to the early ‘female’ Gothic

[3] As I’m writing this, I come to think of yet another example from a book I recently read, It, by Stephen King. Here, a group of pre-adolescent children hears voices and sees blood coming from the sink drain in one of the kids’s bathrooms. But only they can hear/see it, not the grown-ups. Just another example.

[4] Or rather, calling what I am about to illustrate metanarrative might be misleading. Metanarrative, in itself, is something else than what I want to shine light on now. But metanarrative is being used in the example to a certain degree.

[5] Also, one way in which the novel is a metanarrative. The fictional B.E.E cannot be the real one, for obvious reasons. Another example of what makes this book meta; one of the students at the college the fictional B.E.E teaches at, is writing her thesis on him. But is she writing her thesis on the fictional, or the real Bret Easton Ellis? What are the conventions in which the novel wants us to answer this question?

[6] As the narrative goes on, the person changes shape and turns into something similar to a dog-like creature.

Letter From Merriland

Dear Mom and Dad

 

I have now been living here for about ten years, I apologize for not writing in a long time, but there has been so much going on. Life in Merriland is not what one would expect. Since it has been so long so I have a lot to tell and here is my story if you want to hear it. When I first left Sand Lake, I ended up in the Welsh town called Gloomington where I lived in a shared apartment that was named “The Dudgeon Dungeon”. A bleak and depressing place. I spent most of my days missing home and sitting in my room. I often played my accordion and sang folk songs and I was feeling a bit bitter about having ended up in Gloomington. I must admit that I enjoyed it somehow, there is sometimes nice about feeling sorry for yourself. I was part of something. Everyone in Dudgeon Dungeon felt sorry for themselves and we shared our self-pity. Little did I know that these were the best months of my life, at least after I left Sand Lake. I could not stand staying in Gloomington for long. I packed up and left after living there for approximately six months. I then ended up in Merriland, a country too little and too beautiful to be found on any world map. A paradise on earth, a modern Garden of Eden with fully dressed people.

 

Merriland has a population of around 3 million people, which is a little more than a third of the population of New York City. Merriland might be a small country, but they stand for democratic values. Even if most of the politicians may have very similar opinions, electing them is fully up to the people. Their values have a few similarities with America, but maybe a bit more social democratic, and their political execution may be a bit more efficient. I was surprised in my first encounter with this nation. I was quickly given the right to vote. There was a consensus in the population that if someone worked and paid taxes, they should obviously have the right to be involved in the democratic process of the nation. For them anything else would be unheard of. My first job in Merriland was at a grain factory and my labor was the reason so many Merrilandians got their daily bread. This country surprised me. It seemed the people living there were sincerely happy, they were not living in a dictatorship. I have never experienced a more democratic system than in Merriland. I settled down in a small apartment with air conditioning and quick internet, even before Wifi was a thing. A thing in my block was that every Sunday there was something they called “The Clean-up” where everyone got together to clean up and fix things, we drank coffee and afterwards we ate cake. There was such great unity and everyone was delighted to contribute.

 

I read quite a few books my first year in Merriland. I read Kafka, Bjørneboe, Plath, Hemingway and Wolf. John Irving did not get away either. Finding literature was simple in Merriland. Every bookshop was like a library and it was easy for them to find the more uncommon books. Instead of commercials, they have a TV and entertainment tax, which paid for all the TV channels in the country. The ads that were sent in between were mostly information about the world. Usually with happy children holding hands, reminding us to take care of each other. The shows were quite diverse. There were feel-good reality shows, sitcoms, staged TV Drama and Drama shows similar to those in the US. Everything from the heavy and serious to the light and humoristic.

After living in Merriland for five years things started to change. My happiness turned into discontent. I was no longer happy to be part of Merriland’s happy community. It did not make things better that everyone else were happy and laughed.

 

Thing took a bad turn the time that I cried because I was homesick. I missed Sand Lake. The pleasant, East Coast small town in the state of New York, east of Albany. The place of picnics, porches and progress. I choked up one evening when I was watching a movie with some Merrilandian friends. There must have been something about the film that reminded me of Sand Lake specifically, I cannot put my finger on what it was, but it must have been something. Maybe it just reminded me of home. The scenery in the movie reminded me of Sand Lake. I dreamed back on the old days and my youth back there. It was not perfect, but it was mine. When I started weeping my friend Jessie asked me why I had started crying when it was such a cozy and funny movie. I told him that I missed home and that I just could not control it. Jessie could not understand it at all. This also caught the attention of the rest of the gang: “How can you be homesick when you live in Merriland, the greatest place in the world?” I was used to the United States, the greatest nation in the world, you could love it or leave it. Not loving it left you with a sense of guilt, In Merriland you had to multiply that with at least a hundred. This was a place of wonder and riches. I felt like the world’s most ungrateful person. Here I was surrounded by generous and beautiful people in some kind of paradise and the ungrateful bastard I was, I was missing Sand Lake: The armpit of the world!!!!!

 

After the incident, I decided to keep all emotions that were not extreme happiness or ecstasy to myself. I may have sat in my room crying my eyes out, but in public, I laughed like everyone else.  I was actually just acting 95% of the time, the other 5% I felt genuinely happy. The others seemed genuinely happy all the time. I envied them and I was extremely jealous of their joy and their lives. Maybe I was even jealous of their lies. If you are that happy all the time, you have got to lie to yourself, right? There must be some dark secret. This cannot be that much of a paradise! There must be something wrong here, it is all too good to be true. One day it happened, I found love! Her name was Irene! She was born and raised in Merriland. She was one of them and her happiness spread to me. This was also around the time when I was promoted at the grain factory; I had slowly started working my way up. Irene worked as a manager at a restaurant, my favorite restaurant in Merriland. We talked about having kids. Merriland was the perfect place for kids to grow up. We dreamed about watching them grow, seeing them go to school and succeed in life and maybe find love and have kids of their own. The future looked bright; it was always did in Merriland. It is common in Merriland to have two kids. There is not much adoption in Merriland as there are few families who struggle with raising their kids properly. Contraception is also developed in such an advanced way that no one gets unwanted kids. In fact, most people in Merriland want kids! Those who cannot can try test tubes or a surrogate mother. A Merrilander will gladly loan away their sperm or their uterus to make someone else happy, that is just the way they are! Irene and I got married during my fourth year in Merriland.

 

One day I was trying to send an SMS, but my phone was low on battery and it shut itself off. I re-charged it, but in my frustration, I had forgotten my SIM-code. I started getting stressed out and my head looked like a boiled tomato. I yelled, “Fuck! Shit! Goddamn! Fuck! Shit! Fuck!”  in frustration. Swearing was not frowned upon in Merriland, but frustration was. Frustration was very uncommon there, because it was so nice and pleasant that were no reasons to be frustrated. Finally, I had to write in the PUK-code. That was when my cup overflowed. The SIM-code was just the final bubble in the cup. I had been thinking over my life all day. I was worried that my thoughts were not free and happy enough and that I did not have a reason to live. I was simply not worthy of living in Merriland. I thought; “Is this the time when I end it all?….Should I actually just kill myself?” It was not as if I had a lot to lose, except Irene, but she would be better off without me anyway. I had very little to offer, either her or Merriland. It would probably make quite a fuss if I did kill myself; no one had committed suicide in Merriland in at least twenty-five years. There was not much illness either in Merriland. The most common cause of death was old age. Most Marylanders grew to be around 110 years old. Imagine sticking out this life for 110 years! How the fuck is that possible? I cried a little. Then I told myself I was ungrateful and pathetic.

 

One day I was out biking in the wilderness. I met a gentleman named Kurt, he had a much nicer bike than me and he had clean jeans and bent knees. I asked him if he was interested in a loaf of bread and he told me he had some condiments we could put on it. Sharing was the foundation in Merriland. Without sharing society would fall apart and we would be left with nothing. We had a picnic. Me and Kurt. Me and a stranger. He was happy, like everyone in Merriland. A cheerful man who did not take himself too seriously, but also was not too fatuous. We got to know each other quickly.

 

Kurt told me he was born and raised in Merriland. He had a lovely childhood and he grew up with his sister Katrina, his brother Lorentz and their parents. They used to spend their summers at Tranquil Island, which seemed to be the perfect vacation spot. I told him I grew up in Sand Lake in America. He wondered how it was like to grow up in the US, a place with so much sorrow and violence. I told him it was horrible, but also sort of nice at times. I did not tell him I missed home, that would have been ridiculous. When you meet a new acquaintance in Merriland it is common to tell them your entire life story. Kurt said: I started school when I was five. I met lots of new friends and we had so much fun. The most important thing about growing up was learning from your mistakes. Maybe I did dumb things, but I learned from it every time. We would be happy, play together, and maybe sing a song. Music has always meant a lot to me and I learned to play the harp when I was 11. Every time I went to a party, I would bring my harp. I now work as a police officer, which is a simple job because the crime rate is so low, but there of course are a few things to do. There is always someone in need of a passport or someone driving too fast in their electric cars or someone being naughty and biking on the wrong sidewalk. Everyone can make a mistake, but the police forgives, of course. That is just the Merrilandian way. When I was 20, I married Anita and we have three beautiful children together. We have now been married for almost 20 years and we are just as in love with each other as the day we met!

 

I told him about Irene and that we were thinking of having children someday. I said we had been married for three years. He said, “Good luck”. He advised us to have children; it was a greatest experience one could have in an otherwise amazing life. My happiness-cup was again overflown. I think I started hating him. Maybe it was the American in me that could not stand all the happiness Kurt brought to the conversation. The sleazy bastard with his nuclear family! Fuck him! I smiled and told him I was delighted to have kids. Did I really? Was it just what was expected of us? Did Irene want children? Would not childbirth be just as painful in Merriland? I could not imagine it being more pleasant in Merriland than in any other place in the world. I wanted to tell him about my homesickness, but I skipped it. It would not have done any good. Bringing negativity to such a nice picnic? I could never have done that!!

 

When I got home, I cried again, the tears were flowing. I was just happy Irene did not see me. She could not see me like that. No one could see me like that! I often see my brain as its own universe. I feel like there are planets and civilizations spinning around inside of me without being aware of each other and that there is a planet or even a galaxy behind every single thought. I have often thought of seeing a therapist, but there are so few of them in Merriland. It was basically a profession that was obsolete. Almost no one were sad or depressed and mental illness was almost eradicated. I am not sure if there would be a stigma around such a visit, but still. There were few stigmas in Merriland and people were quite open and tolerant. Maybe it is because actual destructive things are almost non-existent. Sometimes I wonder how people would react if I did commit a terrible crime or murdered someone. You can only imagine how a society where nothing bad happens would take that. It must have been quite a shock! Do not get me wrong, I would never do anything like that, but it is tempting. I would just love to see their faces! To be fair I would like to see their faces if I ever went to a therapist. Imagine being depressed in Merriland!

 

One day I looked through the weekly classifieds and saw that a local library was in need of a manager. Maybe it would help for my body and soul to change fields. I applied. The job interview terrified me. I could not see myself in such a position. I would, of course, not be the boss of the entire library, just a manager position within the library-hierarchy. The interview turned out well and they seemed to like me. One week later, I got a call that the job was mine. I immediately quite the old one and was thrilled to start. I do love books!

 

 

The job turned out to be amazing. Not only did I get to work with books and people, but I also got a bit of responsibility. Responsibility was the thing that separated the bosses from their minions. Not power, but responsibility. At least in Merriland. I did not have much power, but I did have responsibility, and that is how it should be. There was a hierarchy, but the hierarchy was based on responsibility, not power. I was responsible for my department, while my bosses were responsible for me. The job also made it so that I could read a lot of interesting literature. It gave me the opportunity to read nice books, good books and rare books I had never heard of. Literature for Sweden, from Pakistan, from Tanzania, from South America, from the entire globe! I got myself a cup of coffee on the way home and thought to myself; “Life can be nice, life is beautiful! It’s great here in Merriland” I came home and Irene and I went to a restaurant together. We had Tapas for dinner and Crème Brulé for dessert, a perfect meal, if I am allowed to say.  A perfect meal, a perfect day, a perfect life in a perfect country. I love Merriland! I woke up the next morning aware that I was alive, the sun was up, so was I. The days at work were great and I felt that I amounted to something, I was a human being. Not an insignificant human being either, because no human being is insignificant. We are all one unity, we are together about this, and Merriland has shown me.

 

One week Irene went to a culinary course in Paris. She was going to be taught new tricks from the best chefs in France. I had my first night alone, it felt nice, and it was only me. I played the accordion and watched foreign films on TV. I was all by myself and it felt good. I was quite happy at work the next day, I smiled to the others at work, and everything just felt terrific. I looked at a picture of Irene in my office and considered myself happy to have her. When I got home I felt a little sad, I really missed her. She was now in Paris, a city where people get murdered, most likely every night. She is not used to that sort of thing. What if she witnesses a murder? What if she sees a dead body? The solitude drove me crazy, I really missed her and my suicidal thoughts were back. Are not people going away for courses all the time? Are not their significant others missing them when they are gone? Do they not have the ability to miss people in Merriland? I teared up, another night alone. A record or a movie meant nothing to me. I cried and I cried. If I were in the states I would feel pathetic, but also a bit cute, but if Irene knew I cried for her she would be heartbroken, possibly even angry. Why cry? Who the hell cries in Merriland? I was happy for her, she got to go to this great course, but I really missed her. Would she have missed me if I were away? Maybe!, but would she cry? Definitely not! It was the worst week ever, well, at least in that year. I cried every night. I could keep myself together and smile as usual at work, but I broke down the moment I got home. I stared at the pictures of her and all the times and the tears were flowing. I was a sad, sad person. When she got back I gave her a huge hug, I felt so happy. She smiled because I was smiling and she laughed when I laughed. I asked her how she liked Paris and she said it was fantastic. In spite of all the suffering, she thought it was a nice city and the lights were glittering. She told me she might sacrifice some of her happiness just to see such lights in Merriland. She was joking of course.

 

The joy of seeing Irene again was the only that kept me happy, the only thing that made me feel alive. The only thing that made me feel like a true Merrilander. There is no feeling like seeing someone you have missed again, it somehow makes the time missing them worth it. Maybe as an American I could never adapt to life in Merriland. I was used to awful headlines in the newspapers. I was used to murder and abuse and people committing suicide. I was also used to those moments when a certain smile or laugh could make me forget those headlines. There are some keywords that burn themselves into your brain and never disappear, even in Merriland. Maybe Merrilandians do not have these keywords stuck in their minds, because most of their headlines are good news. Maybe it is also so that they do not miss people here and the feeling of longing is nonexistent. Maybe none of these happy people has ever felt the happiness I felt when I finally saw Irene again. It was a strange thought. I of course envied them because a word like “murder” was a foreign word to them, something you are just not used to, but to people elsewhere it is a word you probably hear every day. Other places you will never know when a terrorist attack might occur and you will never know if you will attacked or robbed. In Merriland, there is no such thing as terrorism, but there might be something I have that they do not. In one tiny moment, I might have been the happiest person in Merriland. It was a very strange thought. Possibly the only person in Merriland who ever considered committing suicide, was for a couple of hours the happiest person there. I almost get the chills thinking about it. I was happy! I was a Merrilander.

 

After a couple of months things started to get bad again. Irene noticed it; at least that is what I feared. I walked to the highway and I saw life pass before my eyes. I saw a truck and I almost ran toward it. If I am going to be completely honest, it was not my will to live or my survival instincts that kept me from going through with it. It was Merriland. I liked the goddamn place. Just one tiny place in the world where horrible things do not happen. Where the people can be happy without worry about the horrors that might occur. They really had something nice there and I did not want to ruin it for them. If I brought my Sand Lake-infected sadness to Merriland and told Irene about, it would defile her and Merriland as well. If I had actually taken my life, I would have changed Merriland forever. I knew I had to get away, but how would I tell Irene about it, make her sad, and ruin the happy harmony of Merriland? I told her that America had corrupted me, she did not understand, there was no way for her to understand my sadness. I told her that I missed living with sadness and that happiness only made me unhappy. I told her that I loved and that I would miss her, but that it was for the best for the both of us that I left. It was also the best for Merriland. She told me that she would miss me and asked me to send her letters. I did not know if I will be able to do it. It might be the absence seem worse.  I still do not know if missing someone is common in Merriland. I have a little selfish dream that when I am gone she will leave Merriland and come live with me. In that way, we can live together, aware of our unhappiness. If I have indeed defiled her with my pain, we could indeed live together and be miserable. We could be the modern Adam and Eve, defiled and expelled from paradise. We could live together in sin and destruction. It was of course a dream. A selfish yet beautiful dream that made the longing and heartache much easier.

 

I have of course missed the both of you over the years I have been in Merriland. I hope one day to return to Sand Lake: The armpit of the world! I will soon be on my way and my arrival in American might be right around the corner. The forgotten son returns to his hometown to finish his unfinished projects or get a fresh start. I apologize for not writing sooner, but it would probably make me miss you more and increase my homesickness if I did stay in touch. It was better just keep up my Merriland happiness. I think I am going to be happier now. Maybe I find my own little Merriland someday. Maybe there exsists such a place inside of me as well.  Lots of love.

 

Dearest,  Kenneth.

~Readhard

when people in a debate says “i concur” you know you’ve lost

things i think about when i think about alt-lit.
always include references to things you like, or anti-like, or likes ironically – but not sincere irony, because that would be tacky.
if possible, never write about anything explicitly vulgar. we are living in a civilized millennial environment, where safe space is a real thing. if you ever come near my comfort zone without my knowing i will sell you to the police.
the hardest part of writing alt-lit is that microsoft word is trying to autocorrect. part of the fun is that you never use capital letters. this means that you have to revise the first word of every sentence and you have to correct the upper case i’s literally all the time. you should omit punctuation too – and if you must use it, don’t use it correctly; or use it as liberal as you want. there are no police here (yet)*
i am using punctuation badly, but it’s there. that is my form of rebellion i guess.
the literature you should read should be self published, or just screen grabs of the internet. try to misuse words that are already overused for the sake of using an overused word. examples of these words include: “literally”
“like”
“gmail chat”
“2010”
“miranda july”
“the pale king is inferior to…”
“introvertism”
“kitsch”
“post-meme-deepweb-realism”
“the next day we had whale”
do you see what i did there.
that was actually a question, but i just can’t be bothered to include a question mark. quotation marks and parenthesizes are used regardless.
here i would if i where you apply a reference to something that I think is more obscure than what it actually is. i feel like sharon carter, dodging the trainwreck that is michael ‘berg’ bergen (1998-2001)
actually you can just change the autocorrect issue in a settings tab, so now it’s not a big deal anymore.

anyway, this has been my review of audun mortensen and his influenced writing based on tao lin
i have a sneaking suspicion mortensen doesn’t even use gmail chat
here follows alt-lit poems i wrote just now

i could be a decent beekeeper if i outgrew my crippling fear of white suits

sometime i cant help but wonder if sarah jane would be a better feminist if the doctor didn’t go to metebilis iii

the plural of žižek is most likely žižex

>i’m so sorry for not attending your birthday party
something came up (my life) and i had to handle it (postponing to start reading proust)

Who is Rosemary’s baby?

Rosemary's baby

 

The reason why it took me so long to watch Rosemary’s Baby – I will tell you quite honestly – is because I was afraid to. I was afraid I might not be able to take it, that the movie simply would be too scary for me. I never used to be a horror movie fanatic, I should say. I had heard rumours about the movie, rumours that this movie was in fact one of the scariest movies made, up there with The Shining, The Thing, and The Exorcist. I had seen The Shining and rather enjoyed it (I was all the while thinking well this isn’t too scary, what’s the fuzz about?) I liked The Shining, it was scary (scary in a good way), so why I still had doubts about Rosemary’s Baby, I couldn’t say.

As with so many great movies through history, Rosemary’s Baby also started out as a book. It was written by Ira Levin, published in 1967, and this book was recently assigned reading for the course I was taking at university. Suddenly I had no way around it. I was relieved it was the book, though, as reading something scary is not completely the same as seeing something scary. (This statement is obviously open for debate. There’s a sense of having something forced upon you in seeing something scary that is not present in reading, for example.) As I had no idea what was awaiting me in the book, plot wise, the terror/horror ratio, what type of terror/horror it handled etc., I thought that by first reading the book, I would at least have some sort of armoring with me if ever I chose to see the movie. (Besides, it`s always better to have read the book first. Always.)

So I read the book, and I watched the movie. I liked them both. I didn’t get inordinately scared by them, but I did get to the point where I had to put my hands before my eyes in the movie, and I was definitively puzzled by some of the aspects of the novel. Several questions arose in my head, opinions formed, and this here text will try to present one of them to you. (Before you move on, let me just say, be aware there might be spoilers (I really am not good at this stuff), and that having read/seen the novel/movie would be, regardless of level of spoilers in the text, beneficial to you. But as always, I don`t really care. Do as you wish. There, it`s done, now move on on your on responsibility.)

After having read the book, what strikes me the most is the title. To me, the title (Rosemary’s Baby, to be clear) has been around a long time, I’ve known about it, and have had a somewhat idea of what it represents to me before having actually familiarised myself with the novel. But having read it, the title has attained new meaning to me. It is not just “some title” popularised by Polanski’s famous horror movie anymore; it contains significance that is important to the novel. The title mystifies, depersonalises, belittles and makes arbitrary who Rosemary’s baby actually is. We know, after reading the novel, Rosemary’s baby is in fact the antichrist. Then why didn’t Levin simply call his book The Antichrist, or Antichrist, or something to that effect? Because if Levin had done this, the ambiguity (the mystery) as to who the protagonist is, would not exist, as it does now. With naming it Rosemary’s Baby readers are left contemplating who they should emphatise with, who to root for, as it were. The most obvious answer to these question is immediately Rosemary. (No sympathy for the Devil). She is after all in the title itself! But, it should be emphatised that while, yes, Rosemary is the only name in the title, it is not Rosemary that is the main focus in the title; it is in fact her baby. It is not about Rosemary as much as it is about her baby. If Levin would have the reader believe Rosemary to be the main protagonist, would it not have been easier to simply call the book Rosemary?

Now don’t get me wrong, I should point out that I do believe Rosemary to be the protagonist. In fact, there really is no doubt about that, and saying something else would be outright wrong. I will, however, stick to my previous argument and try to better explain it by putting it differently; the pains and the suffering she goes through during her pregnancy should all be attributed to her baby. We must agree on this. Without him, Rosemary would be an ordinary pregnant soon-to-be mommy, which would make it extraordinarily hard for Levin to establish and produce empathy toward her, extensively making the writing of this novel oddly somewhat frivolous. Without Rosemary, the baby would not exist, without the baby, Rosemary`s suffering (and therefore her significance) would not exist. Rosemary is, as it were, stuck between this earthly world and the unknown supernatural world where witches have taken control over her presence in this earthly world. (Having written this, I feel like a true asshole, a giant sexist. It sounds as if I am saying Rosemary is not important had it not been for her suffering, and her ability to carry forth the antichrist. While this is on one hand correct, it is simultaneous incrrect. I hope you are able to see my underlaying point here. The underlaying point is that there would probably not be written a book about “an ordinary pregnant woman”, because she would be, in and of itself, ordinary. A book about “an ordinary pregnant woman” would not be, I hope we can agree on, as exciting to read. Remember, Rosemary is stuck between two worlds. This is an interesting handling of any gendered individual. And, as we shall see, she is treated very badly by the people around her, too.)

So of course, Rosemary is not completely irrelevant. The next point I want to make is slightly more connected with the text. (We`ll see about that.) The title suggests that this is in fact Rosemary’s baby, and only hers; it it not the Castevets, nor Guy’s baby, it is Rosemary’s. This is interesting because if there is a character in the book who is opposed to the baby, it is Rosemary! Well, no, don’t get me wrong; I wouldn’t go so far as to say she is opposed to it, that would be wrong. The circumstances in which Rosemary gets pregnant is immensly important in this aspect, and worth a look at. You see, she is the one who keeps trying to talk Guy into getting her pregnant, that this time in their life is the best time etc. But Guy wants to wait. He wants to be a bit more securely positioned in his acting career, something that Rosemary respects to a certain degree. It comes to a point where she is sick of waiting, but she never acts out so much so that she forces Guy to get her pregnant. But Guy suddenly changes his mind, and tells Rosemary that now, now is the perfect time. The planned evening, however, Rosemary becomes ill and doesn’t feel up to much after dinner. (It should be noted that the dessert they eat is something given to them by Minnie Castevet, and arguably (probably) contains some sort of chemicals engineered to make Rosemary pass out. And Guy, of course, knows. Let`s not forget, he is inn on everything the Castevets do.) Guy rapes Rosemary in her drug-induced sleep. Everything goes according to (the Castevets’s) plan. Although Rosemary expresses some doubt and sceptisism towards Guy’s rape, she does not assert any consequences toward him. Nor does it appear that she gets any hunch of what his agenda is. She’s happy that she finally is pregnant. However, when the baby keeps growing inside her, she starts feeling pain. The doctor she goes to says not to worry, the pain will go away shortly. But they don’t. They stay with her for weeks, for months. She is definitely the only one doubting and questioning what is going on with her pregnancy, wanting to get a second opinion on her pains etc. This is what I mean when earlier I said she is opposed to her pregnancy. The doctor she goes to, Dr. Sapirstein (recommended by the Castevets, keep in mind), and her (so-called) friends and family all tell her it will go over, that she has nothing to worry about, when in fact, they are all smiling behind her back, hardly not being able to wait for the it’s birth. It’s all going according to the Castevets’s plan. They have tried before, with Terry, who understood what was going on, and decided that killing herself was a better fate.

But The Castevets wouldn’t let that happen to Rosemary; they kept good care of here. As we know, they were able to talk Guy and also the first doctor, Dr. Hill, to their side. (If they weren’t already on their side, of course. This is a possibility open to argument, but I shall not dwell upon for the moment being.) At the end, when the little child is born and put in a cradle (Rosemary, of course, being under sedating during the whole ordeal), Roman Castevet is even able to talk Rosemary to their side. Well, that’s what it seems like, at least. Let’s stop for a second and examine the ending. To me it seems to be two possible reason why Rosemary decides to go against her primary impulses and, rather than shunning the anti-christ child from her life, decides to taking care of him; 1. the power of love is stronger than evil; Rosemary looks past the fact that her son is the anti-christ and chooses to be a good mother to him, and treat him as she would any other child, or, 2. the power of evil is stronger than love; the Castevets’s power is too immense, and Rosemary has successfully been infused with the same poison of evil that Guy and Dr. Hill have been.

My natural and immediate reaction upon reading the book, is that number one is the correct one. Here follows a selection of quotes from the end of the novel, from which I draw my conclusion. (This is the part where I thought my point would become slightly more text-relevant.) I take them from the edition published by Corsair, with an introdution by Chuck Palahniuk, from 2011 (pictured above?):
“Why don’t you help us out, Rosemary, be a real mother to Adrian …” (Says Roman Castevet, p. 222)

“No, she couldn’t throw him out the window. He was her baby, no matter who the father was. What she had to do was go to someone who would understand. Like a priest. Yes, that was the answer; a priest. It was a problem for the Church to handle. For the Pope and all the cardinals to deal with, not stupid Rosemary Reilly from Omaha. Killing was wrong, no matter what.” (P. 225)
“`Rock Him,´ Roman said to Rosemary, smiling. He moved the bassinet back and forth towards her, holding it by the hood. She stood still and looked at him. `You’re trying to – get me to be his mother,´ she said. `Aren’t you His mother?´ Roman said.” (P. 226)

“Roman said. `His name is Adrian Steven.´ Rosemary said, `I understand why you’d like to call him that, but I’m sorry; you can’t. His name is Andrew John. He’s my child, not yours, and this is one point that I’m not even going to argue about. …” (P. 228)

The thing to notice in this selection of quotes, is how Rosemary first hesitates, then re-evaluates. First she does not want to be his mother; her impulsive decision is to ignore the child, to not be a part of his life. But after Castevet points out that she is in fact his mother, she seems to re-evaluate.

Also, the fact that she insists upon his name being Andrew John and not Adrian Steven suggests that Rosemary is in possesion of her own sovereignty the whole time and her desicion is not an impuslive one, one that she wants to get over and done with. It is a competent and thought through choice. She chooses herself to act as hs mother.

Maybe this conclusion is derived from me being too naive, idealistic and romantic, but this is my opinion anyway and there really is not alot I can do about that.

I’m glad I did watch the movie after reading the novel. The movie is an important input in the cinematic history in many ways. What I immediately reacted upon was how the movie lies very close to the novel. Polanski doesn’t seem to take very many artistic liberties with it. This is both a good and a not-so-good thing. (An example of a movie where artistic and creative liberties have been taken, would be The Shining. It is very different from the book. But I won’t dwell on them here. We are approaching quite a different subject, one concerning the difference between an adaption and an interpretation of a book, a very interesting subject mind you, but not one fit for this here post.) This here post is hereby finished. Thanks for reading.

~ Milk

Guest Lecture: American Idiot: Political Rock Opera? Rock Opera? Brilliant? Overrated????

In 2004 Green Day released their multi-platinum selling rock-opera American Idiot. It’s the band’s second best-selling album after the 1994’s major label debut Dookie. The album is both loved and hated and put them back in the mainstream after years of commercial flops. The album won a Grammy and inspired a Broadway musical, which will also be made into a screen version. The album is known for its socio-political imagery and has been said to capture the zeitgeist of Bush-era America.

I think the rock opera format is interesting as it gives an album a dramaturgic or narrative angle as a whole, and many bands and artists have tried it. Most notable are probably David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, Queensryche’s Operation Mindcrime*, Rush’s 2112, Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage, Pink Floyd’s The Wall and The Who’s Tommy and Quadrophenia. A problem with the format is that it often gets way too pretentious and overly pompous, and often lose the original spirit of rock n’ roll. Sometimes the overly ambitious story might sabotage the songwriting. Done well, however, rock operas can be great and make the listener appreciate a story in addition to the music.

*Operation Mindcrime might be more of a concept album than a rock opera.

Back to American idiot.

Is American Idiot a political rock opera? Is it even a rock opera? I’m not going to look too much into the latter at the moment, but it could probably be questioned. I feel like we should take this quote with a grain of salt, being from a Green Day fan-page, but I’ll include it anyway: “2004 was a year of conflicting views(sic) and political statements. Green Day were adding their on self-certified speech to a declining nation. Creating a product of retaliation, unearthing a fresh new source of backlash from a country swamped in scrutiny. As a band of authority, Green Day weren’t lying down to big ego’s (sic) or presentential(sic) stronghold. A feature so potent in American Idiots underskin. Green Day disapproved of their government(sic), and a catalogue fuled(sic) in profound belief(sic) and superioty(sic) would change a Country and a band forever. « I would say that there is no doubt that songs like the title track and “Holiday” are political statements. Vocalist Billie Joe utters as he introduces the song in Milton Keynes 2005: “This song is not Anti-American, It’s Anti-war!!!!!”. The legendary, merciless music reviewer Robert Christgau views war as one of the issues that the album references (“War (Not any special war, just war”). Christgau later goes on to say about the whole album: “There’s no economics, no race, hardly any compassion». “ and he’s right. In my opinion neither “American idiot” (The song) nor “Holiday” offer any real ideas and are both just random political musings and half-baked statements (“I don’t want to be an American idiot” and often trying really hard to offend (“Zieg Heil to the president gasman”/”Subliminal mind fuck America”). The songs are also quite detached from the actual story in the rock opera and to me seems a bit misplaced on the album as a whole.

Outside of the politics, I think a lot of the songs are a bit weak and depends too much on obvious theft. Quite a few songs border on plagiarism. I would also say it’s quite an overrated album. The songs that are great are, however, really great, “Whatshername” is a perfect ender and really makes a perfect finish to the actual story as well as being an incredibly beautiful song. It starts “I thought I ran into you down on the street/ Then it turned out to only be a dream”. The Whatsername character, as seen in a dream by the protagonist of the story, brings on the entire story and the entire album would not make sense if it weren’t for the song. In that regard it also starts with the end.

The actual story is also pretty good and might hold up better than the music does. Even if the story also borrows a lot from the Who’s rock opera: Quadrophenia. Green Day singer Billie Joe Armstrong even made a joke or a prediction that they were going to make a rock opera about a guy named Jimmy, an obvious reference to the Who, in an interview from 1993, before they had even made it into the mainstream. The huge difference is that Jimmy is the main protagonist of Quadrophenia and St. Jimmy is one of the other characters in American Idiot. I’m not much of a fan of Quadrophenia as an album, but it’s actually one of my favorite movies. The title is a play on the word “Schizophrenia”, meaning splitting of the mind and bases on the misconception that it means split personality, ”Quadrophenia” means in the rock opera that Jimmy’s mind is split in four. The connection is that it’s often assumed that St. Jimmy is just a part of the main protagonist in American Idiot also known as “The Jesus of Suburbia”’s(Taken from “The Buddha of Suburbia”) split personality. Still St. Jimmy seems even more destructive than Jimmy, and in the “Jesus of Suburbia” music video he resembles a Sid Vicious (Sex Pistols member) inspired character, making him some sort of Punk Rock version of the troubled Mod. In Quadrophenia, Jimmy drives his Vespa off a cliff into the ocean, while in the Green Day song “Homecoming”: “Jimmy died today, he blew his brains out into the bay” and the Jesus character continues, “In the state of mind/ It’s my own private suicide”. This connection is maybe my favorite part of American Idiot. Later in the song, the Jimmy character is gone and “Jesus is filling out paper work now”. Jesus has now gotten a job and left the life behind him and daydreams of something better.

The reason Jesus seem to move on is that the girl he is in love with sends him a letter bomb saying that nobody likes him and she certainly doesn’t seem to either.  The girl is Whatsername from the song with the same name. It’s uncertain whether he actually refers to her as Whatsername when they are together or if that’s how he refers to her in retrospect, it is said that they all call her “ol’ Whatsername”(“She’s a Rebel”), but in the song “Whatsername”, he claims to have forgotten her actually name and forgotten all about her, yet seeing her in a dream makes the basis for the entire story told. Outside of “Whatsername”, “She’s a Rebel”, “Extraordinary Girl”, “Letter Bomb” and “Homecoming” are all about her, it seems. “She’s a Rebel” and “Extraordinary Girl” shows Jesus/Jimmy’s love or fascination for her as a person and a fighter for her beliefs, while “Letter Bomb” and “Homecoming” are about her leaving him. “She’s a Rebel” is also the song where the imagery of the album cover comes from “She’s holding on my heart like a hand grenade”. In “Letter Bomb”, she seems to be the one to tell him “You’re not the Jesus of Suburbia/ St. Jimmy is a figment of/ your father’s rage and your mother’s love”, establishing once again that St. Jimmy really doesn’t exist.

I definitely think that the story between the split personality or identity crisis ridden character and Whatsername is a far more interesting angle than the political aspect, which is slim, if it exists at all. Still as far as politics and social commentary goes, if we can distinguish a difference there, I would say that the rock opera (especially in songs like “Jesus of Suburbia” and “Letter bomb” which discuss divorce, drug use and commercialism) are much more of a comment on the situation, thus captures the spirit of the times in the Bush-era America than it offers any ideological points or solution to the observed issues. That being said, the reason it captures this particular time is because it was released in it, the war in “Holiday” as Christgau mentioned is not talking about a specific war, and unless we are relating “idiot” to George W. Bush, I wouldn’t say there is actually that much to go on if one is to claim the album is restricted to take place in the Bush-era. I think, it being an opera and all, the album would be more interesting if it had a libretto (a book attached to the album), but then again that might ruin the imagination the songs themselves produce. I think maybe the most positive part of the rock opera is that it actually does tell a story, and a pretty good, relatable story too!, unlike so many other rock operas, including American Idiot’s successor 21st Century Breakdown, where it’s unclear there even is a story. In spite of my slight negativity when it comes the album, I’m actually going to see the musical in Stockholm! So I’m looking forward to that.

~Labbetøs

 

***
Thank you so much for the insightful article on American Idiot, and for being our guest lecturer. I hope we’ll see more of your stellar work again sometime.
– Peanut.

 

 

Possessive Aggressive

I left the house on a Wednesday (If you feel like you need to know the day). I then drove the car to a store-it garage just outside Chinatown.  The rest of the trip was going to be strictly on foot. No rides, no hitchhiking or transports.  I guess piggybacks would be OK, but only if I’m asked I guess.

On my epic quest for self-discovery I met some girls. They were pretty. One of them had a skirt and a top, but you could clearly see the belly. Around her bellybutton she had a tattoo of a narwhale. I asked the girl why she had a narwhale on her belly.

“It a piercing animal” she said, and gave me the old ‘are-you-stupid-you-old-cunt’ look. The girl next to her laughed, and lightly tapped her tattoo, as to make it wobble. “Look, it’s dancing”. We laughed.
“Are you locals?” I knew they were. Anyone is this damn city are locals. I know that’s an obvious remark – but I mean that they are locals in the mind, and in their appearance and in their way of living.
“We live @ the trailer park, but right now we are evicted.” The tattoo less girl said to me. “We live together, her and I”.
“I think you mean “she and I.”” I said, immediately regretting it. “Stupid, stupid, stupid”. Truth been told, I do not even know the first thing about grammar. Grammer?

“Are you for real, old boy? Nerds like you need to chill the fuck out. ”The tattooless girl smiled condescendingly, and put her hand down her skirt. She retrieved it, but now she had a small bottle in her hand. She began drinking it, and shared with her tattooed roommate.  “It’s gin.” “The best kind.” I looked at the bottle. It was called “Gin-ie in a bottle, baby” and had a picture of a Genie with starry eyes and an electric guitar. “You should have some.”
“Should I really?” I thought. I haven’t been drinking for ages. But then again, it wasn’t like I was going to drive anywhere, so I answered. “Yes please”. I think I paused to think for too long. Mere seconds later, I was given the bottle. They nodded in a way that said that I could have some, but not too much -just enough to warm my body. Their eyes followed the bottle, greedily watching my every move with their now runny eyes complimented by their red cheeks and pale lips. I felt like kissing them with my gin soaked lips. Especially the tattooed girl.

My stride had to continue. Besides, I was really cold, and I had to keep moving. Always moving. Always getting farther. I bode the girls farewell, and thanked them profusely for the swig. I have always felt that gin clears my head. The air feels more airy after a small sip. A small amount like that shouldn’t really make any difference, but then again, I almost never drink anymore.

The city was busier further down the block. Some dodgy youngsters stood on a corner wearing what I assume to be a gang identifiable outfit. They all had basic colored clothes, but with purple accents, be it their shoes, belts or bandanas. The old me would be terrified to even look in their general direction. Now however, it didn’t seem so distressing. Not that I would go over and tell them to fuck themselves, I would never do that, but I could, if I wanted to.

**********************************************************************

This soulful wandering down the city – it’s been done so many times before in books he liked. The bitterness of not being original in any aspect of his life, whilst he was desperately trying to be, slowly drained his childhood cheerfulness. In addition, being this self-shallowed; it’s such an outdated thing.

**********************************************************************

Some cars drove slowly past me. It was, as if they wanted to take some time when driving past. Looking at me, analyze the type of man I am. They don’t know me. For all they know, I could be the son of the President, or an unstable maniac baiting in people with my small and insecure body, for only to lurch at them with a knife. But I don’t have a knife anymore. I don’t have anything.

“The fewer the possessions you have, the freer you are” was an outstanding quote I once read. I can’t remember where, but it spoke to me. I can never tell anyone that I get feely by quotes of that standard. Personally, I despise people who live by motivational and inspirational quotes. It is simply beneath me. I wish I read books instead of keeping myself alive by remembering cheap quotes.

It got colder now. Luckily, my jacket was padded, and the cold night breeze bounced off the gore-texy fabric. I should have brought along a scarf or a beanie. Oh well. A slight cold won’t matter. I’ll just keep on walking. Somewhere must be better than this place. Fresh beginnings and so on…

The streets became less crowded with parked cars, benches and other items that you usually see in city centers. Despite getting colder, the air felt fresher. WAITAMINUTE! Have I really so little to ponder? The air quality and the temperature? I’m supposed to have this life changing experience, where I denounce all my possessions and leave to explore the world with my own eyes, and all I can grasp to think about is the weather? I should be having complex philosophical and poetic thoughts and discussions with myself. If I only read books.

  • I’m Kerouac
  • I’m Thoreau
  • I’m Supertramp McCandless
  • I’m Rousseau.

It’s been awhile since I talked to the girls. The narwhale girl was the prettiest, even though girls without tattoos generally are more beautiful. It’s more of a healthy choice to abstain from ink. Would it be lame if I went back and asked her for a date? Yes.

**********************************************************************

For the first time this evening he took a cigarette up from his pocket, and lit it with a cheap gas station lighter. He adjusted his jacket, and if one were around to see him, like the old Chinese woman who stood by her door, you’d see he was slightly shivering. The Chinese woman probably took him for a meth-head or someone jacked up on alcohol. He did have a swig of gin, so she wasn’t complelty in the wrong. Mysterious psychic Chinese lady. How spooky.

**********************************************************************

The moon is up, and I’ve walked at a partly leisurely, partly busy pace without any stops for several hours. I’m way past the city. From now on there’ll be forests, hills, ponds, bridges and fields. I can breathe. I can talk loudly. “The fewer possessions you have, the freer you are”. “It’s a piercing animal”. I’m tasting the words. “P-pier-piercing-cing”. I wish I read the books.

I guess I have to return at some point. The feelings I can’t seem to well up through traditional narration of my own thoughts must pass, or die down at some point. I should get a dog, and a backpack, and books, and new cigarettes, and a small cottage, and weed. I need possessions as much as I need freedom. But I want freedom and no possessions. I want the narwhaled girl. Hell, I want her friend. I want her to read the books for me.

“I should turn” I tell myself. I can’t do this, I’m not strong willed enough. I should turn and go back. Back to –

I should go back. The gravel under my feet makes the most soothing noise. “Crunch crunch crunch”

“I should go back.”

  • “I should go back.

**********************************************************************

He should go back.

**********************************************************************

“I should go back.”

 

 

 

~Peanut

Two texts

# 1: – Sam:

Sam looked at himself in the mirror. He pointed at his reflection and said, slowly “This is not me. You are not me.” His reflection followed the movements of his hand and his mouth. After having said it, he felt relieved and like he could finally relax – like he did`nt have to wait for anyone anymore. He felt like his body was a hollow shell, a something that is not his, that could have been anyone`s; a shell where `he´ lived, where `Sam´ was supposed to spend his entire life. “Maybe there`s a monster hidden inside of me” he thought while standing motionless looking at the something in the mirror. Sam wondered whether the something was aware that he, Sam, was looking at it now. The something might be looking back at him. Like looking at the abyss. Then he realised that for it to be aware of that, there would have to be an actual entity inside of him, making the shell un-hollow again. Sam shuddered at the thought.

“Does he want to escape or does he want to stay inside me?” he wondered. He thought his body was probably a good place to live in, and that if he had had the opportunity, probably would want to live there himself.
He went to bed again and closed his eyes. His body felt detached from him, like it was situated far away from his head. He would wiggle his toe and think “This toe is not part of my body. My body is too far away from me for it to belong to me”. The longer he thought about it, the further away the rest of his body felt. Before he fell asleep, he thought maybe he should give the something a name, instead of just `the something´. Several names went through his head, but he was unable to find a suitable one. Then he fell asleep.

Sam was dreaming. He was outside, in a low forest ravine, surrounded by stones and trees and fog. This was a place where time and space didn`t exist. He looked around and was surprised at what he saw. He saw his reflection, the something that had been staring back at him from the mirror before he went to bed, sitting alone at a table, eating. Sam wanted to walk over to him and talk to it, but he was unable to move; he could only move his head. In a corner he saw a little girl who was jumping rope. Sam saw her jumping in slow motion. With each stroke she would count “one” aloud over and over. And with each stroke, time would go slower and slower, the rope taking longer and longer to complete one arch over her. She finally stopped altogether and suddenly collapsed on the forest ground. A man dressed as a clown appeared from out of the fog, picked up the little girl and disappeared again into the fog. Sam could hear someone clapping from behind where he stood.

When he woke up he went to the mirror in the bathroom again and said aloud “Is the monster `me´ or is he someone else?” and then he said “I feel alone” to the emptiness that surrounded him. “I am happy.”

Then he ate breakfast.

– – – – – –

# 2 – Little Scotty:

It was around the time that Rachel was training for her first marathon that Little Scotty just could`nt take it anymore: he had died, only three years old, after having spent half his life in a coma. It was March 28th. The marathon was August 2nd.

Rachel was devastated but also not surprised. She had heard the news from Jen. Jen was her best friend, they had know each other “since forever”. Jen was Little Scotty`s aunt. “He will be cremated.” Jen said. “It is what he would have wanted.” “Why do you say that?” Rachel asked. “I.. just know.” Jen answered. Little Scotty died when he was three, and had spent half his life in a coma. He was barely able to speak when he first came in a coma, how is Jen able to know “what he would have wanted”, Rachel asked herself. But it didnt`matter. Never did it matter.
Being his aunt, Jen now was the one responsible for Little Scotty`s after-death care. Jen was his mother`s sister and by default also his closest relative. Both of Little Scotty`s parents had died; his father died in a car crash the day after he had gotten his mother pregnant, and his mother had died giving childbirth. The doctors could not explain how it happened, or how it was possible in this day and age. They could only briefly share Jen`s despair, give her a pat on the shoulder, a hug.

“He deserves a proper funeral. Everyone who knew him should be there.” “But Jen, that`s like … five people..” “He deserves it.” Jen repeated. “You, me, the doctors and the nurses. That`s seven. The funeral will be held a week from now. A week and a half. Here, in the hospital. That`s best for everyone. Cheapest. Closest. Everyone knows where it is.” Rachel nodded.

The next day Rachel went for a run. She tried to run four or five times a week. Today she thought she`d run 12 – 15 kilometers, and tomorrrow she wanted to try to run the distance of a half-marathon. Rachel wanted to try to run the distance of a full marathon at least once before the actual marathon. She was a firm believer that the actual marathon should not be the first time anyone ever actually`d run a marathon. While she ran she listened to music; Iron Maiden. She had listened to the band “since forever”; she had practically grown up listening to them. Song: “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”, oddly fitting to her current activity. Jen didn`t listen to them. She was more into soft rock etc. Which was fine with Rachel. She, too, occasionally enjoyed listening to that kind of music. But Rachel was more into the fast, and the brutal. Iron Maiden was only the beginning; the more brutal (brutal-er?) the music, the better. As much as she loved them, compared to the other stuff she sometimes listened to, she had to admit Maiden was “soft”. But it wasn`t about being brutal. She couldn`t care less what people thought of her, who she was, or what she listened to. It was about the way it made her feel, and about how she was able to “just let go” when listening to music. People often complained that they could never hear what the bands Rachel enjoyed, were singing about. Rachel could never understand why that was a problem. What`s the big deal about always being able to hear what they sing she thought. If they actually could hear what they were singing, people would probably change their minds anyway. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. Besides, it`s not about the lyrics, you know. It`s about the brutality, and the being able to letting go of whatever anger or sadness or whatever you might have bottled up inside on some days, just letting it all go through the loudness and the screaming and the running she thought as her pace unconsciously fastened while hearing Bruce singing. (ruuuuuuuuun on aaand oooon, ruuuuuuuuun on aaand ooooon THE LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONELIIIIIIIIIIIIINEEEEEEEES OF THE LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG DIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIISTANCE RUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUNEEER)

Rachel did not think about Little Scotty even once during the following week.

April 13th, the day of the funeral, one week after Little Scotty died, came and went. It was a Friday. Everyone Little Scotty had known had been there. Everything was as Jen had wanted it to be. After the ceremony, the body was driven to the crematory. Rachel was one of the people carrying the coffin to the car. It was a weird feeling. The coffin was very small, and very light.

Jen lived with Rachel for a little while after the ceremony. It was a way for her to recuperate. “I didn`t know him for long,” Jen started “but he sure made an impact on our lifes”. Rachel was thinking that the only way Little Scotty had made an impact on Jen`s life, was a negative one. She had always needed to be around in case something should happen to him. This affected her work life and her social life. Rachel kept telling her that if she ever needed any help with anything, she would be there for her. But Jen had never asked for help. Although Rachel could tell she wanted to. But Rachel didn`t want to intrude, either. In the days after the funeral, while she was living with Rachel, there was no doubt that Jen was relieved of not having to keep thinking about Little Scotty. It was as if a giant weight had been lifted off her shoulders. But she never said anything about it. Rachel thought Jen felt bad for being relieved about his death. “There was nothing more you could have done, Jen” she would say. “You did everything you could”. Jen agreed to this. She would say things like “Yes, I know.” and “Thanks, Rachel.” “He was in a coma for all his life. It`s sad, but it`s also kinda good. Remember what the doctors kept saying; `if he was not in a coma, he would have been in a severe painful state´, remember?” Jen remembered, and it gave her some sort of closure. At least he didn`t suffer, she would say.

During the weeks she lived with Rachel, they would get drunk together, and watch old, cheesy horror films. They laughed and, Rachel thought, had a great time together despite the circumstances. “It`s what needs to be done” they would tell each other, then laugh. They would order pizza and eat half of it, then order a new one and eat half of that one, too. They would bring the rest of the pizzas to homeless people on the street, and they would smile and thank them profoundly. Then they would repeat the process. Somedays they ordered chinese or indian food, and would eat everything themself.

One night, after Jen had fallen asleep during an extremely boring movie, Rachel decided to go for a run. She didn`t listen to any music this time. Sometimes Rachel, too, enjoyed silence. She ran the complete length of an actual marathon. She never felt more ready in her life.

~ Milk

An Uneventful Post About An Uneventful Story.

I accept the challenge, Ellen, even if it means me over-analyzing your seemingly uneventful story.

Ok, so some context would be nice, right? My blog partner Milk showed me some years ago another blog called Muumuu House. This is a place you’re probably going to hate or love. There is no middle ground. It’s like if marmite was a blog. I don’t care for marmite, but I do like this blog. One of the posts on said blog, is a story by Ellen Kennedy. The URL calls it a poem, but I rather think it’s a short story, or to give them the benefit of the doubt, perhaps a prosaic poem. You can find this text here: http://muumuuhouse.com/ek.poetry1.html.

Let’s talk about the title. AN UNEVENTFUL STORY ABOUT A PERSON AND A DOG IN AN APARTMENT THAT THE MAJORITY OF THE POPULATION WOULD REACT TO BY SAYING ‘I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT THE POINT OF THIS IS’. What a title! It reminds me a bit of old novels, where the entire plot is told on the cover, so that the consumer could decide on the purchase. Like in Robinson Crusoe, where the subtitle is something along the lines of …or the story of a shipwrecked Scotsman who survives on a deserted island for many years, whilst still maintaining to keep his faith and by cleverness and help by a savage finally goes back home. Perhaps this was a bit over exaggerated, but I think the point still stands. We understand the basics of Kennedy’s narrative only from the title. Or, a part of the title does generalize the dog. In the proper text, the dog is a toy poodle.

The title challenges the reader. I don’t want to be a part of the “Majority of the population” if they are in the wrong. If the majority of the population has a large dick, I’d like to be a part of the majority, because then they are in the right, or at least in the normal. The majority of the population react to this story by saying “I don’t understand what the point of this is.” She calls her own story uneventful, so she’s kind of joining in with the majority of the people. One can argue about whether or not the author has more authority over her own reading, but I think that when she’s just a reader, she has to apply to the readers rules, given by the implied author, she no longer is.

The whole poem starts every line with the subject of the sentence, and it’s often either the person or the poodle that starts the sentence. We are as a reader just observing it all, like we are at the theatre. There’s no dialogue, but there is one instance of thought. “’fungus, i’m eating fungus’” notice how the ‘i’ is in lower case. Is this a power play, or does not the upper case I need to be so when only in a thought?

The person lives a life of bare necessities it seems. The mattress is directly on the floor. And the apartment is just one room containing the basic furnishings a home needs. Can we from this assume that the person is bohemian? Is the person perhaps poor, or just not that interested in luxury? I feel like the person is a bit contradicting. (S)he is eating a raw Portobello mushroom for dinner. Instead of eating the whole thing, (s)he eats just the helmet and top part of the stem, and throwing the butt to the dog. Just like one throws bones and scraps to a dog. The fridge is also containing vegan burgers. And our person is deciding to eat them, but later on, the mushroom is the winner. Our person of poor living conditions sure do have some fancy foodstuffs.

Thea eating and throwing away of the mushroom can be read as a sexual thing. The mushroom works as a phallocentric object, and it is subject to the persons habits. It’s washed, and then eaten raw. Saying that this is a metaphor for oral sex might be a bit too simple, but it sure plays with our sexual thoughts, and how we readers can find filth in pretty ordinary things if we set our minds to it. The Toy poodle gets the stem. The Toy poodle is also alive, and has from the beginning witnessed the person walking over to the toilet, and stared at him/her peeing. This is another reference to the human organ, the one that pees that is. The toy poodle is submissive, and is just lying around, eating the thrown out stem, and returning back to its corner to sleep. The person is introduced by doing the action of just waling over to the toilet, and the last action is feeding the toy poodle. This is the story, and it is quite uneventful, but it’s still compelling. It might be the shortness of the story, and our want of meaning that bears this narrative, and makes it eventful just because we are being told it isn’t.

I won’t pick it further apart. I just wanted to shine some light on this story. I really like the absence of action, and the absence of eventfulness. This isn’t that weird to be honest. Perhaps more stories should be this uneventful? Some stories should be, to contrast the ones that are eventful. We can also learn that events doesn’t necessarily provide meaning. The absence of meaning is still meaning.

I’d advise you all (4 readers) to check out Muumuu house. It’s so hip that if you ever need a hip transplant, they’ll have plenty to spare.

All for now,
~ Peanut