An elegant, if not elegiac, strip show. I had seen it before, but nearly 20 years ago. I was too enchanted to go on afterwards. I slipped out the back, but the French paparazzi was waiting for me. “This is not a matter to be taken lightly,” one of them said, stealing footage of my raw surprise. I replied, “I don’t take anything lightly. Everything I choose to endure is a cosmic elephant. Frivolity nauseates me. I mean, I’m not a homunculi, for Chrissakes. I was born for the screen. Look at my face. Look at my eyes. Just one eye. Can you honestly say that my frontal lobby indicates anything less than a healthy entitlement to shit on the entire universe at my leisure? It’s not as if I lack a traumatic kernel. No. My selfhood is empowered by the repressed memories of thousands of pulsing traumas. Yes. Invariably I experience a tension between a feeling of genuine happiness and the desire to destroy myself. I’ll tell you how it happens. I get to feeling really goddamn happy—and then I recognize it. What I’m feeling, I mean. Interpellation is the problem. My happiness calls out to me: “Hey, shiteater, you’re happy!” And I realize that I’m subject to a much grander and more devious systemic morass. Or I simply realize that I’m happy, too happy, and this sort of happiness doesn’t last, so I might as well put an end to the fucker now. Depression sets in. I don’t want to kill myself. I’ve never wanted that. I just want to be tolerated. I just want to exist. Somehow existence must be enough.”
Only two more stops on the Zero Degree of Meaning Tour: Barjac, France, and finally Prague, Former Czech Republik. I can’t say it’s been a good run. I’ve sold upwards of 800,000 books, but in my eyes book sales don’t constitute success. I make six figures teaching writing and literature to rednecks in Shitsville. I don’t need this shit. The book tour, that is. I need the writing. All of us writers need it. We do it because that’s what we do. The rest is just an excuse to get drunk.
Chip Delany and my father were waiting for me outside of Shakespeare & Company when I arrived to do a reading of the final chapter of Codename Prague, “Codename Prague,” in which the code that authorizes and empowers the novel, baffling readers like a monochromatic Rubik’s cube, is unlocked, revealed, and disseminated across the universe. It was raining. They stood under tiny black umbrellas and sipped espresso from tiny paper cups. I walked up and they sort of snapped to attention, hurriedly finishing their espressos and tossing them aside as if they were illegal. Chip spoke first. He said he was very concerned, etc. My father agreed and said it was time for an intervention, things had been going on long enough, etc., etc. Back and forth, they went. I remained silent, polite, thoughtful.
A fight broke out.
Dad and I started pushing each other in the chest, and then he took me by the elbow and shirt and applied a tia-toshi judo throw, pulling me over an outstretched leg and slamming me against the slate-plated street. He’s a third degree black belt and still very limber, quick and capable despite being 68 years old. A staunch pacifist who even has reservations about theoretical violence, Chip, also 68, leaned over and tried to help me up, and Dad applied hiza garuma, placing the bridge of his foot against Chip’s outer knee and wheeling him head over heels into a stack of books covered in cellophane. His hair and beard swallowed his face like a wet mop. Panting, I crawled over to Chip to see if he was ok, and my father chided me, intoning, “Your sentiment will be your destruction.” I told him that was a line from The Shield and that he killed Samuel R. Delany, one of the greatest African-American science fiction authors of all time, despite his personality, which we could and should excuse him for. In fact Chip was a “very good guy,” I admitted, and it was my father’s son, D. Harlan Wilson, who was The Asshole. Dad agreed. Then the Sûreté Nationale pulled up and threw us all in a paddywagon (Chip was alive), or tried to; Dad deflected and flipped and swatted arresting officers out of the way like winter coats thrown at him by low-ranking children of the corn, and then he leapt behind the wheel of the paddywagon and drove us across the Pont au Double bridge to Notre Dame and then backtracked across the bridge and we tore down the Quai de Montebello, the Quai Saint Michael, etc., and in the end we were drinking table wine and eating baguettes in a café overlooking the Parc de Monceau, feeling refreshed. It had stopped raining and the waiter gave us towels to dry off. Everybody was happy, an ephemeral emotion, but we talked and laughed and drew out the emotion as long as we could before shaking hands and going our separate ways.
To kill a fly, one must be alert and patient. Prerequisite: steady hands. Wait for the fly to land on a flat surface. Open the hands into flat shapes and hold them outwards, as if carrying a large porcelain cistern. Approach the fly. Gaze upon the fly and do not look away. When looming above the fly like a mountain god, take a deep, silent breath and bring the hands together into a fierce clap approximately two inches above the fly. For a fly, there is nowhere to go but up. Flies are faster than hands, and accomplishing a clap in a spatial matrix where, before the fly moves, the fly does not exist, will compensate for this crisis of velocity. The fly should be dead at this point. Deposit the corpse in a garbage can and apply antibacterial gel to hands, or move on to another fly and return to the beginning of this process essay.
Outside Ye Olde Cock Tavern on Fleet Street in London was a big poster of me in a kind of Muammar Gaddafi pose that somebody was hitting with an empty bottle. I asked what he was doing and he said it had nothing to do with me; he was just trying to break the bottle, which was made of abnormally thick glass.
The aesthetic of this pub combines cool futurism with bourgeois Victorianism. It’s as close to experiencing a Steampunk diegesis as I’ll ever get. In fact, merely sitting at the bar and looking around does more for me than reading a steampunk novel, most of which promise so much and deliver so little and are beleaguered by excessive moodiness and artiste-like behavior on the part of characters and more importantly the authors that breathe bad breath into them. I assure you, there is no drama, no flâneury in Ye Olde Cock Tavern. There is only quiet and compelling spectacle.
Chapter 20 of Codename Prague, “In Outer Space, a Ceramic Mannequin without Arms & a Cracked Foot,” is a kind of prelude to the subsequent chapter, Passagenwerk, a play on Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project. It reads:
“tumbled into a Disnified black hole. And Dr Hans Reinhart said, ‘Something caused all this. But what caused . . . the cause?’”
I had not read half of the chapter when I received a call from Dayton, Ohio. It was Andersen Prunty. Yes, it was. I had not spoken to him for awhile and decided to surrogate my reading with our conversation, putting Codename Prague aside, enabling the speaker function on my iphone and holding it up to the mic. Our conversation began with the usual exchange:
“Where are you?”
“I was just thinking about you. I was going to call you. I swear.”
From there we moved on to other topics. As always, our conversation culminated in a rant against the fetid state of the publishing industry and the suicidal ennui that results from reading virtually every book ever written. Before I knew it, the wide-eyed master of ceremonies was making a heated phone closing motion with his hand, pressing the fingers into the palm with his chin. It was time for me to go. I said goodbye, and went.