I had started this book once before, or so I guess from the marginalia in the first few pages.  I have no recollection.  I can tell from the first few pages that it is a heady tome and probably untenable as a piece to juggle during the school year when I am busy with serious research.  But it is the summertime, after all, and this comes close to Beach Fare for me.

I have never been shy about my man-crush on William T Vollmann.  It won the National Book Award, one of the few awards that has yet to let me down.  And.  And it is about the eastern front during WWII.  Not that that is intrinsically attractive to me, but given Vollmann I bet it is a fascinating look at violence and political theory and heavy yet captivating characterizations.

One thing that has caught my attention already is how Vollmann refers to Nazi Germany: sleepwalker.  Not capitalized.  Not unique or a proper name.  But as an adjective, a predicate noun to be more precise.  How interesting.  What is it about somnambulation that makes the Third Reich worthy?  My guess is that Vollmann is getting at a type of zombie-like state.  The person is just a body.  Unthinking.  Unfeeling.  There are libidinal desires but without the mind the body thrashes about and tries to satisfy the desires without finesse, which is simply violence.  Violence is the easy way to strike out at what is wanted.  No persuasion.  No trickery.  No sophistry.

Ursa was the first to connect this to zombies for me.  What if the zombie is best like somnambulation and less like the un-dead?  Then the cure is to wake up the body.  This metaphor makes a lot more sense in a political context, as it caters to the great Western liberal myth of consciousness raising as the answer to problems.  I suspect, however, that Vollmann will not fall for this.  Sure you can wake up most people but the zombie is different, it does respond to wants whereas the sleeping person does not.  In the end Ursa may be right for the state of the person-as-zombie but it makes the cure even more problematic.

Was the answer to tell the German population about the horrors of Auschwitz?  There is debate but I will say no.  They knew what was going on.  The response is that they did not know the degree and I call bullshit.  Maybe the degree exceeded what they thought was going on, but what was known would have been/should have been enough to shock them into resistance if there was a threshold to such barbarity.  This argument is also too forgiving, not only to them but to us.  It too easily allows us to assimilate the horrors as some unique act allowing us to look the other way.

Even though the status quo horrors may pale in comparison, a claim I am willing to interrogate, they are still horrible enough to compel action.  People know it.  It is not a matter of consciousness raising.  The resistor needs to en-courage, not educate.  The resistor needs to show that it is possible to look straight on and not away.  The resistor needs to risk.  Even in, especially in, the face of futility.  None of this is new or even erudite, which is exactly the point.  We need to stop looking for creative solutions and instead choose bold actions.

This is what I keep coming back to as the health care debate is beginning to dominate the news.  The tinkerings only make me more upset.  Remove health care from employment status.  It’s a rigged game and time for us to make a stand that helath care ought to be a positive right.  Is a public run system less efficient?  Probably.  I am willing to concede that.  But I will then challenge vociferously the validity of efficiency as the mark of success.  Of course there will be lines as more people seek preventive care.  That is not necessarily the mark of inefficiency, rather that is the mark of privilege protecting their privilege.  Waiting in qeues cuts into time they could be on the phone or sitting in a Dairy Queen drive through ordering a Blizzard.

Cover of "Ulysses"
Cover of Ulysses

I have often thought of publishing stuff in hard-copy.  Friend’s works.  Stuff I like.  I think the place where I should begin is a collection of my favorite short stories.  There is, of course, a copyright issue to deal with since some of my favorites are not yet public domain.  In any case, here is my current list and I am always willing to hear suggestions for additions if I ever did this.

Anton Chekhov.  “The Witch” and “The Lady with the Dog.”

William T. Vollmann.  “Epitaph for Jaguar” and “The Handcuff Manual.”

? Duffy (I forget the first name).  “Payment in Kind.”

A small list for now, but I just read another one that would definitely make the list: Donald Barthelme’s “Alice”. (60 Stories. 68-75.  1981.  NY: Penguin Books.)  It is written oddly, almost a stream of consciousness style, but more accurate than Ulysses or any other attempt I have crossed.  Maybe I just find it accurate because I should be on ADHD medication.  Here is the openeing paragraph for clarification of what I mean:

twirling around on my piano stool my head begins to swim my head begins to swim twirling around on my piano stool a dizzy spell eventuates twirling around on my piano stool I begin to feel dizzy twirling around on my piano stool (68)

Barthelme’s style here does a good job of relating the dizzyness, but the rest of the story is also written like this.  I wonder then how unique the dizzy sensation is.  Does the narrator always feel like he is twirling on a piano stool?  While I think I have that feeling more than most, at least since being hit by the car, I can tell that it accelerates at times.

Here is one of the slower paragraphs to help demonstrate the haze riddled world of the narrator:

I maintain an air of serenity which is spurious I manage this by limping my limp artful creation not an abject limp (Quasimodo) but a proud limp (Byron) I move slowly solemnly through the world of miming a stiff leg this enables me to endure the gaze of strangers the hatred of pediatricians (69)

During high school I had a friend whose father walked with a pronounced limp.  The father was born in Ireland and I think something had happened to him there and he was unable to seek adequate medical attention for it.  The interesting part, though, was my friend’s younger brother who adopted the same limp without having had an injury.

Sometimes when I have been sitting for a while and I then stand and walk, as I am about to do here in my favorite coffee shop in Uptown, what a gorgeous day it is BTW!, I have a stiff leg and I walk with a limp.  I love that limp though. I imagine people see me and think that I earned it in some glorious spectacle.  In any case, Bartheleme’s story turns on a feeling, Byron’s pride, to which I can immediately relate and have never before shared with another writer.  Therin lies some of Barthelme’s magic: his keen eye.  I would recommend this book for anyone wanting to read some great short pieces of fiction.

I will leave you with a joke Ursa‘s cousin told me the other day:

A man in the area was walking and sees the neighborhood mentally ill man with a rabbit.  The man is crying and emotionally wrought because the rabbit is ill.  The original man thinks the rabbit is fine but knowing the character takes him to the neighborhood vet, where they ar eboth well known.  The vet talks to them and understands that all he needs to do is look the rabbit over and diagnose it as alright and the guy will be happy and content.  They are shown into an exam room and the vet leaves, saying he will return shortly.

The two men and the rabbit are in the exam room and a labrador retreiver runs into the room.  The men stiffen with anxiety, but the rabbit is fine and the lab just sniffs around some.  A woman enters, apologizes and retrieves the lab, exiting for the lobby.  The door remains open.

A black cat then runs into the room and also sniffs around.  Neither the cat nor the rabbit react as the men do.  Again the owner comes into the room, apologizes and leaves with the cat.

A few minutes later the vet returns and declares that the rabbit is fine.  he then hands a bill for $500 to the first man.  “Doc, I thought you’s just look him over and …you know,” the man says in hushed tones hoping to not give away the show to the mentally ill man.

The vet replies, “yes, but I have to charge you for the cat scan and the lab report.”

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]