Archive for July, 2013

Beckett’s novel, How It Is, makes a lot of our supposedly contemporary experimental literature* seem decades behind. This dark (much darker than his other long prose–there are no comic gags here) book may be seen as an addendum to his trilogy. If the narrator of The Unnameable exists in a limbo or purgatory, this narrator may have been returned or shipped off to an earth stripped to mud and sacks of food no one needs to eat. The prose features no capital letters, no indentations, no punctuation of any sort. It reads almost like a series of prose poems, though it is a highly structured novel. You must read these passages slowly and carefully.

The narrator, sometimes named Bom and sometimes named Bem, has prosecuted a relationship with Pim, who has since left him. Now he records three distinct phases of life and loss: before Pim, with Pim, and after Pim. But are these really memories? His voice operates beyond his will: “I say it as I hear it” and “murmur[s] it to the mud.” This sort of compulsion to speak haunts Beckett’s work. Here that compulsion seems an interesting play on his generally maximal subjectivity. What demand is there to speak, to make words of experience? But it’s also too much to say that the narrator would rather lie in the mud. Want and desire seem disconnected from the brain or soul.

This becomes clear when Bom encounters Pim. Really, Pim just ends up glued to him. Pim can sing. Beyond that, he is a kind of doll whose anatomy the narrator can bend and shake however he likes. Bom trains Pim to sing and shut up, among other things, by what I might call behavioristic if it were calculated and what I might call sadism if he gained any pleasure from it. I cannot even call it cruel, because the narrator has no particular moral sense. He merely operates according to his lights, digging his nails into Pim’s armpits to prompt a song and stabbing his “arse not the hole” with a can opener to make him speak. For the most part, their relationship is a description of these tortures and their purposes. But something interesting happens toward the end of this section: the narrator begins to have intimations of another world “up there” in the “light.” In this world, he has a wife that he confuses with Pim. In another theory, his life is being observed by Krim and Kram, who are interested for reasons he cannot divine.

His theories take on new importance in the third section. Pim’s gone and the narrator seems to spin out the metafictional dramatization of loss. Loss apparently cannot have a purpose unless it edifies or at least speaks to the world above. Otherwise, he really is a pathetic creature

fallen in the mud from our mouths innumerable and ascending to where there is an ear a mind to understand a means of noting a care for us the wish to note the curiosity to understand an ear to hear even ill these scraps of other scraps of an antique rigmarole

At the same time, he gets an inkling of both his past and his future: Pim and Bom (or, sometimes, Bem) constantly exchange roles, the one time victim will become the torturer. Having just been a torturing Bom, he is now a Pim waiting for someone to come and train him. He is certain that most Pims and Boms in this world have no inkling of this repetition. Their between-relationship times are like blank spaces in which nothing can be remembered. All this plays well with the narrator’s brainless compulsions, but, left alone, seems like the baldest allegory for human relationships. Beckett will have no bald allegory. Indeed, as soon as the narrator works carefully through the implications of such a purely circular history, he curses its stupidity.

Now I can speak of a compulsion common to all Beckett’s narrators: the compulsion to make the world intelligible. Some of this novel’s greatest moments come when Beckett allows the narrator to fully articulate his theories and calculate just how many Bems, Boms, and Pims there might be in the world. But Beckett recognizes that this compulsion, while common, may never be satisfied. No theory can explain why we do what we do, and we are left to regret the loss of our Pims, and fear our future Pim selves.

*especially the cold psycho sexuality being plumbed in many quarters.

Thanks to Kerri Farrell Foley for publishing my latest piece, “Mannish,” in the new issue of Crack the Spine. While you’re there, check out a cool little poem by Ken Haas.

Megadeth: Killing is My Business … and Business is Good!
This is a time machine of American heavy metal. No matter who and how old you are, by listening to this album, you will be delivered to LA in 1983. You will be sixteen and male. You will have long hair and tight jeans. You will be ready for the pit. This is not dark music. It is fast and loud. It is immature fun. The lyrics involve comic book heroes, Monty Python rabbits, and the sexual fantasies of a gas station attendant. Still, you get a hint of Megadeth’s potential. In particular, Dave Mustaine shows himself to be an undisciplined prodigy on the guitar. That discipline would come, but not yet. It’s 83. Enjoy yourself.

Iron Maiden: Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
Maiden offers a different version of heavy metal. For me, this album marked the end of their Golden Era, which includes four albums (this one, Somewhere in Time, Powerslave, and Piece of Mind). I’m almost certainly wrong about this, but I believe it’s the first fully-fledged metal concept album. It is the complete though not exactly flawless story of a doomed prophet and his doomed people. Where Megadeth offers low-end riffs, solos out of nowhere, and pure speed, Maiden offers harmonized guitars, operatic singing, and attention to detail. Each song is a composition, as is the album.

Ash Borer: Cold of Ages
These guys have a fraction of the track record of Maiden and Megadeth. They have a fraction of that fraction’s rep. They’ve put out a couple of albums and LPs, but they’re representative of the best of metal today. The songs are much longer and much darker. They offer no lyrics, just guttural screams. They depend upon a reverb/distortive quality that reminds me, really, of Sonic Youth. No guitar solos. They do not play mosh songs. They do not tell stories. I kind of wish I could still stay awake till two in the morning, alone with a quart of Mickey’s Ice, just to see what they sound like then. I mean, they just seem designed for lonely insomniacs. Still, I find Ash Borer interesting. They’re finding new sounds, new ways of being metal. Thank God. I don’t always want ’83.

*If you’re looking for more genre specific adjectives like “speed,” “thrash,” “black,” or “postapocalyptic-post-rock-avant-black-atmostpheric” heavy metal, you’ve found the wrong blog.