ZDMT #14 - Muscle Beach

Still hung over from the after party at Ian McShane’s house on Christmas and had to cancel my appearance at Muscle Beach in Venice, CA. Had I been there, I would have read random excerpts from my book of critical theory, Technologized Desire: Selfhood & the Body in Postcapitalist Science Fiction, while doing this chest and biceps workout:

CHEST

Barbell Incline Bench Press – 1x100 1x12 1x10 1x8 3x6 1x100
Dumbbell Decline Bench Press – 1x100 1x12 1x10 1x8 3x6 1x100
Weighted Dip – 8x8
Dumbbell Flye – 4x25 4x8-10
Pushup Ladder (Wide Grip) – 8xFailure
Chest Squeeze – 8x60sec

BICEPS

Dumbbell Incline Curl – 1x1000
Barbell Preacher Curl – 8x8
Dumbbell Concentration Curl – 1x25 1x5 1x25 1x5 1x25 1x5 1x25 1x5
Pullup (Palms Inward) – 8xFailure
Dumbbell Speedy Alternating Curl – 1x1000
Biceps Squeeze – 8x60sec

I would have finished the workout/reading by doing crunches for 15-30 minutes, depending upon fatigue.

A Note on Melville

"Melville's need as an artist was to take the small, prosy, and terribly circumscribed form he had inherited, and somehow make it a vehicle capable of bearing a great imaginative weight, of expressing a great visionary theme." Newton Arvin, Herman Melville

ZDMT #13 - Ian McShane's House

Confession: I’m not friends with Ian McShane, and he’s not my father. I had to pay for him to do a reading of Codename Prague, and I had to pay extra for him to do it in the role of his Deadwood character Al Swearengen, and I paid even more for the Christmas day slot, and more for the use of his house, and food and whiskey, and servers, and extras to make the audience look bigger and spill into the back yard of his mansion, etc., etc. It wasn’t as much as you’d think, though. It’ll put my publisher back, but it was worth it, and I feel like Ian and I became genuine friends, although all of my relationships with celebrities are troubled by constant efforts to steal the thunder of the social limelight. I may not be as famous as I should be, but I need that thunder, too.

As one might expect, the word “cocksucker” and incarnations thereof perforated Ian’s reading like a spray of bullets. For example:

“After reality, there will be no cocksucking exposition, i.e., no exorcism of the ghosts from the narrative of the Body Dildonic . . . Lincoln Hawk beats that cocksucker Bull Hurly? Life as a cocksucking spectacle of one armwrestling match after another set to the music-in-the-heavens of Kenny cocksucking Loggins? Only in reality. After reality, Mr. Hurly will rise up and over the top like a chunk of cocksucking foam in the cocksucking Dead Sea. Life jackets, however, will only be distributed on a need-to-float basis. Cocksuckers.”

Ian’s rumblestrip voice, of course, enhanced my decidedly pejorative prose, turning it into something more than a halfass collection of words, and several male listeners fidgeted uncomfortably in their seats, assaulted by feelings of emasculation as they were suckerpunched, again and again, by the threat of homosexual oral sex.

He read for about an hour. Afterwards there was a lot of drinking and carrying on. There’s more, much more, but I’m tired and need doghair badly. Stay tuned for the book version of the ZDMT in 2011. I will expand each entry with more intimate and enlightening details.

Traumatize the Solar Plexus

Last week my agent told me she had sold the rights for an upcoming book of nonfiction, Traumatize the Solar Plexus, regarding my exploits with a gang of scousers in Liverpool in the 1990s. The book will be published by Harper, Collins & McDunnough in 2012. More details soon.

ZDMT #11 - Coeur D'Alene, ID

(FYI I wrote the following entry the morning after my co-reading & signing with Thomas Pynchon at a Black Panther rally at The Club at Black Rock in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, on December 18.)

I’ve been sick all week and my cold reached its summit this afternoon. Symptoms: fatigue, sore throat, dry eyes, hot flashes, acidic cough, dejected worldview, spasmic aorta . . . For a few hours I was completely unable to speak. By the time Thomas Pynchon showed up and the preliminary hate-speeches had concluded, I had drank enough green tea to be audible, if only barely audible.

Pynchon is in his 70s but looks like he’s in his 90s. I was reminded of the character Blue – i.e., “Blue, you’re my boy!” – from the film Old School. He wore a tight WW2 sailor uniform with white hat and had really nice, straight, white teeth, like Gary Busey. They certainly weren’t the crooked Nosferatu fangs that drove him into seclusion in the 1960s, according to Jules Siegel’s biography.

When the moderator signaled me, I climbed the stairs of the podium and stood behind a collision of microphones. Hot flashes. Thundering headache. I had worn black browline sunglasses and a black turtleneck and leather jacket and black jeans and boots in an attempt to fit in. The floor of the podium was made of a kind of chickenwire and I worried that I might be electrified, i.e., that if I failed to satisfy consumer demand, I would be shocked offstage. Nothing like that happened, though.

I introduced myself, saying, “We of the younger generation extol the wisdom of that great leader and educator, who first spoke these flaming words of wisdom: ‘The mass of men lead lives of quixotic douchebaggery.’” Then I thanked everybody for coming, thanked Thomas for riding shotgun, and, sans context, began reading chapter 29 of Codename Prague, “Passagenwerk,” patterned after Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project in methodology and style. This chapter is a pastiche of quotes and pseudoquotes and apothegms and pseudoapothegms that hold the diagnostic key/code to the entire novel. At the same time, the chapter could be struck from the novel and nobody would care; in fact, readers might thank me. My editor certainly would thank me. One of many derogatory notes he made in the margin read: “This chapter should be deleted from the book. Or this chapter should be the whole book. Don’t fuck with your readers, moron.” I didn’t listen to him. I rarely listen to him unless his comments have to do with syntactic or grammatical errors. I suppose that’s why I have been relegated to small press infamy.

The audience more or less stared hatefully at me, although, in retrospect, I could be mistaken. Their expressions might have simply belonged to the empire of Deep and Adamant Concentration. Whatever the case, I only got about two pages into my reading before my voice gave out again. Frightened for my life, I continued to mouth the words until the moderator tapped me on the shoulder and told me no words were coming out of my lips. I apologized and asked Thomas if he would finish for me. He was sitting behind me, on the podium, in a deck chair. I could tell he didn’t want to do it, but I think he was a little scared, too, and he acquiesced without a struggle. His voice lacked charisma and certitude, but at least it worked. After he finished my “Passagenwerk” he read selections from his latest novel, Inherent Vice, which I had not read before. During the subsequent Q & A I admitted to not really being interested in what fiction writers over 70 had to say about life, the human condition, etc., but Inherent Vice is an exception. I also emphasized how much I disliked Vineland – I kept repeating the word “tripe” – but how I continue to be influenced by The Crying of Lot 49, and Gravity’s Rainbow and V. still resonate, too, despite being a million goddamn pages long, like most of his books.

The last question of the Q & A had to do with this very issue. A black panther asked Thomas, verbatim, “What the fuck, asshole?” in reference to the obese girth of his books. His reply was circuitous, but basically it regarded his loyalty to grand narratives, etc.

Imagining Mars

Robert Crossley's new book of criticism, Imagining Mars: A Literary History, is now available from Wesleyan University Press. I've been waiting years for this one. Here's the cover description:

"For centuries, the planet Mars has captivated the human imagination and inspired writers of all genres. Whether imagined as the symbol of the bloody god of war, the cradle of an alien species, or a possible new home for human civilization, our closest planetary neighbor has played a central role in how we think about ourselves in the universe. From Galileo to Kim Stanley Robinson, Robert Crossley traces the history of our fascination with the red planet as it has evolved in literature both fictional and scientific. Crossley focuses specifically on the interplay between scientific discovery and literary invention, exploring how writers throughout the ages have tried to assimilate or resist new planetary knowledge. Covering texts from the seventeenth century to the present, from the obscure to the classic, Crossley shows how writing about Mars has reflected the desires and social controversies of each era. This astute and elegant study is perfect for science fiction fans, readers of popular science, and anyone interested in the interplay of scientific discovery, society, and the imagination."

When I was in graduate school at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, I co-taught a course on Martian literature with Bob, who was my M.A. advisor. That was in 1997. This book has been a long time in the making and promises to be the best work of one of science fiction criticism's most distinguished scholars.

Dr. Hermann Teufelsdröckh - Epiphany #3

"The architecture of the human soul defies comprehension. And yet one can only conceive of this defiance through the medium of comprehension. I use the term medium here interchangeably with the term metaphor. In other words, I am the fireplace within the domicile of the human soul. My logs burn. My flames hiss. My flesh is a memory made of glass." Dr. Hermann Teufelsdröckh, Codename Prague

ZDMT #10 - Mt. Rushmore

Mount Rushmore is more impressive than I imagined it would be to me as an adult. I visited once when I was four or five years old, and certain memories remain vivid, even sacred, but overall the past is obliquehereand everywhere. The same might be said for “objective history,” which I enclose in quotation marks to underscore its impracticality, “truth” being a matter of subjective despotism. And I enclose “truth” in quotation marks because it cannot be actualized, forcibly or in an altogether carefree manner, by subjective machinery. We need a community. Unfortunately communities always-already operate at the very threshold of inoperability, if not disaster. Consider Jean-Luc Nancy’s terminal imperative in La Communauté désœuvrée:

“The community that becomes a single thing (body, mind, fatherland, Leader ...) ... necessarily loses the in of being-in-common. Or, it loses the with or the together that defines it. It yields its being-together to a being of togetherness. The truth of community, on the contrary, resides in the retreat of such a being.”

So history is fucked either way—assuming, of course, that we give a shit about “truth.” The desire for authenticity chronically nonplusses me. We are imaginative animals, after all, who thrive on the theater of existence from the cradle to the grave. At any rate, I remember my parents and sister and I driving across the desert in a blue van, with a blue interior—blue swivel chairs, blue couch, blue carpet, blue window blinds—and we ran over a family of Native Americans. They had erected a teepee in the middle of the highway in a peyote-induced stupor. There was a lot of blood. The father survived. I remember his blank, bruised face set against the silhouette of the mountains in the distance. It was dawn. His family scattered on the highway, bleeding. “Fleeting-improvised” ghosts leapt from the shells of their corpses and were immediately forced to defend themselves against rays fired down at them by God (a.k.a. “Flechsig”), who, in the 1970s, had declared war against the souls of mankind, and every plainsight act He committed was an act of “soul murder,” according to Skeksis mythology, although Mystic’s told another story. Poltergeists crowded my fragile eggshell mind, shitting hot coals onto the tissue. The police tried to arrest us. [Blank space.] I didn’t understand. “Flechsig” had always showed me kindness. Grandpa Sig (“Pop”) used to tell me so. “You’re not a normal boy,” he told me. “You live for a long time without a stomach, without intestines, almost without lungs, with a torn esophagus, without a bladder, and with shattered ribs. Sometimes you swallow part of your own larynx with your food, etc. But divine miracles (“rays”) always restore what has been destroyed, and therefore, as long as you remain a boy, you are not in any way mortal.” I didn’t know what Pop meant, but I knew he was trying to reassure me, and he told me in good faith, with an eye to my continued success.

The last time I saw Pop before he died was in New Haven, CT. Blood in the streets. He had been mugged and shot on a sidewalk. I was the first family member to make the scene. He reached up and took me by the collar and yanked me down and croaked his last words into my ear through a purple slash in his sharp white beard: “With great power comes great responsibility.” He said it in German, though, and the effekt produced a nightmarish polyphony of insect screams in my headspace.

I tried to remember what Pop’s voice sounded like as I wound around Mount Rushmore towards the faces and the monument. It was a deep voice. It was a male voice. Indo-European accent. I remembered nothing else save backing into Pop on one occasion/occlusion in a golf cart at my parent’s country club. I bruised his shins.

Vestiges of the experience tempt me, escape me . . .

I was young again. Somewhat awkward, but socially capable, and everybodythe bullies, the peers, the teachers and the gastroenterologistseverybody knew that I would blossom into a fully metastacized adult. I befriended a giant Sphinxlike robot from a distant planet. After awhile I realized the robot was a rather small, jocular, albeit traumatized Asian-American. He taught me how to clean things, and adventures ensued. Then I discovered that I was handy with a sword, especially crosses between Japanese katana and Arabic scimitars, and animals liked me, too, so I went ahead and rubbed oil on my chest and yanked on bearskin underwear and summoned a legion of jungle beasts to my capable side. I led them down a makeshift yellow brick road like the Pied Piper, keeping flying monkeys at bay with a Burroughsian raygun. More adventures ensued . . . at which point I uttered, “Montag,” and burst into flames, the holy water in my lungs evaporating . . . Eventually I outgrew these frivolities and became serious, calling important dignitaries on the phone and studying the green section of the USA Today with determination and grit. In public forums, I was careful to first remove the purple section and make a big to-do about throwing it in the garbage. In a very short time, everybody knew where I stood and what I represented. Finally I had manifested the Real Me.

. . . rappelled down his brow, set the halter in place, and hung from Roosevelt’s nostril by a bungee cord that afforded me certain gestures and recoilings when the text called for them. I announced, “You may think I’m beyond Thunderdome, but I promise, I will kill again.” My voice boomed from powerful black microspeakers I had nailed to all four of the President’s pupils, effekting an authoritative sense of the Freudian uncanny. Viewed from afarHerr Ashenbach shot footage with a Zaprudercam from a local news helicopter we rented on short notice (thanks again, Gretchen)the Presidents in fact resembled my androids in Dr. Identity, whose exteriors were distinguished from human subjects only by the absence of irises . . .

Dr. Hermann Teufelsdröckh - Another Epiphany

"There are plants in the world. They grow out of the sand. Their hands reach for the sky. Beyond the sky, there is blackness. Beyond blackness, there is nothingness. Beyond nothingness, there is the Television Screen of Eternity. That is what happens to us when we die. To the Screen we shall return." Dr. Hermann Teufelsdröckh, Codename Prague

Dr. Hermann Teufelsdröckh

"I know the function of bald people. They signify what planets look like from afar. Thus they symbolize the distance between A and B. Hence they are unceasing reminders of cosmic vastness and the certainty of Blank Space." Dr. Hermann Teufelsdröckh, Codename Prague

ZDMT #9 - Wall Drug

I put in a bid on unabomber Ted Kaczynski’s secluded Montana cabin despite the ad that assured me the cabin wasn’t for sale, only the land, a “sloping tract of imperial pine trees and rich, porous dirt.” There is no electricity or running water.

ZDMT #8 - Pontiac Silverdome

I’m holding open a copy of Codename Prague and writing this entry on a blank page with a red Bic rubber grip roller ball pen and I’m reading the entry, aloud, into the microphone, as I write it. Sometimes I pause to deliver menacing crowdstares. I just delivered one. I’m delivering another one right now, writing “freehand,” i.e., not looking at the page. Now I’m looking at the page again. I’m standing on a vast hardwood stage, naked beneath the crackling spotlights. I’m wearing a bird suit. The silverdome is at full capacity – around 80,000. There’s a lot of noise. Cheering. Young girls screaming, tearing out their Beehives and Sandra Dees. I can’t hear myself speak. But I can feel my lips moving. Now I hear music. The Ninth. When it comes to the Scherzo I can viddy myself very clear running and running on like very light and mysterious nogas, carving the whole litso of the creeching world with my but-throat britva. And there’s the slow movement and the lovely last singing movement still to come . . .

ZDMT December Update

I have posted my appearances and activities in detail at Goodreads.com for the promotion of Codename Prague on the Zero Degree of Meaning Tour through December 2010. Happenings include a reading/signing by Thomas Pynchon and Ian McShane reading selections from Codename Prague in the role of his Deadwood character Al Swearengen.

ZDMT #7 - Penthouse Club

Jim Breuer opened for me tonight. I planed on being one-upped, but I was determined to at least return fire in an innovative, inimitable, and of course übermasculine way. Jim’s on the road promoting his book I'm Not High (But I've Got a Lot of Crazy Stories about Life as a Goat Boy, a Dad, and a Spiritual Warrior), a “deeply personal, deeply hilarious memoir from one of America’s most beloved Saturday Night Live comedians,” according to an editorial review. I read it before going onstage. It’s all right. I always liked the goat boy skits. The way he acted like a goat. Although he read for an hour from I’m Not High in the goat boy voice, and that didn’t work for me, but the audience seemed to like it, and even the strippers in the shadowboxes were clearly charmed, so I did something similar, but different enough that I didn’t come off as a copycat. The audience tolerated me, and generally that’s all I ask. The high point of the evening for me was when I paused to read my 3-year-old daughter Maddie’s turkey recipe:

1. Get a turkey at the ocean.

2. Take the turkey home. Cook it in the oven with the feathers on.

3. Cook it on cold for one minute.

4. Cut the feathers off with scissors.

5. Eat it with red sauce and bananas.

With surefire übermasculine poise, I was able to integrate the recipe into my reading of Codename Prague, seamlessly, without anybody knowing the truth. This, at least, is what the faces told me through the strata of cigar smoke.

Goat Heads for $0.99

Through the new year, the Kindle edition of They Had Goat Heads is available for only 99 cents at Amazon.com, compliments of Atlatl Press.

ZDMT #6 - Quimby's Bookstore

Memories of Chicago from the old days: Lincoln Park, breakfast at Toast, the gateway of the underworld of Gary, IN (a.k.a. Mordor), the view of Lake Michigan from my sister’s dorm room at Loyola University, psychedelic mushrooms at Wrigley Field, skeletons like termites in the trees, an interlude on a concrete stairway on New Year’s Eve (she had yellow teeth), drinks with Oprah in the black pylon, Tim Burton’s Batman, chili dogs, Lake Shore Drive, French fries dipped in Ranch, lost and cabless and freezing at 4 a.m. in the snow, mnemonic residue of fraternal camaraderie, the L . . . I’ve done readings at Quimby’s Bookstore before on two previous occasions, one for the release of Blankety Blank: A Memoir of Vulgaria in 2008, the other for the release of Peckinpah: An Ultraviolent Romance in 2009. So this is my third year in a row. Quimby’s specializes in independent, small press, and offbeat titles and I always feel at home here, where I first discovered the work of Fletcher Hanks in I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets!, a collection of Golden Age cartoons from 1939-41 about flamboyant, Freddie Mercury-like superheroes and the cosmic hate-punishments they inflict on various global terrorists. This collection in fact significantly informed the direction and mood of Codename Prague, which would have been a different novel without it. There is even a reference to Hanks’ supercriminal “Lepus the Fiend,” a kind of angry lava-man . . . This year I was happy to find a new collection, You Shall Die by Your Own Evil Creation! Today I began writing a screenplay based upon three of the book’s cartoons. Working title: I Shall Make All the Universe Wild and Primitive!

Shroud DE

The inaugural digital edition of Shroud Magazine is still available for free download. It includes my novelette "The Bureau of Me," which will appear in my upcoming metabiography Curd.