grew up in a house without any books. In real life, that isn’t true. There were a handful, though they can’t recall either of their parents reading anything other than the newspaper with regularity, save once: a pulp romance novel penned pseudonymously by their mother’s colleague from a rural junior high school, which mostly concerned itself with variations on the verb, “to take,” as in, She was taken in by the possibilities of his roguish jawline, chiseled as if from the finest French marble. Or, He took her stalwart velveteen innocence while the aquamarine foam of the sea throbbed its tumescent valedictory address. The first dick they met wasn’t Richard Scarry, but the fleshy appendage of some raven-haired master of an eponymous plantation, like Stormfire or Gambleheart.
They are almost positive they can name the four or so other books on the bottom shelf—an orange, hard-covered standard dictionary for middle-school students, a copy of Gray’s Anatomy, and two paperbacks—a Dover Thrift edition of Oedipus Rex/Oedipus at Colonus/Antigone and Flowers for Algernon.
These were the books that did not belong to them. There were also boxes filled with the works of Stan and Jan Berenstain, The Little Engine that Could, Pat the Bunny; they don’t mean to imply that there was any neglect toward reading (even reading ceaselessly) to a child who could not yet comprehend, and if there were, it was largely impotent, if not benign (their mother somewhat jokingly says they caused a miscarriage because of their incessant demands to be read to sleep—a portly child, and lifelong insomniac, them).
Only know this: if they are hungry for a world different from the one they are born into, the incipient knowledge that will come from the following will produce a particular type of rupture: the dramatis pathology of a mentally challenged man’s romantic dalliance + the story of a heroine who asphyxiates herself due to an almost autocratically sincere internalization of moral law + pictures of the viscous lymphatic system + access to the meaning of olfactory, but curiously enough, neither factory, nor capitalism.
The first book they ever stole from a public library was a child’s biography of Babe Ruth. The last book they stole from a public library was Astro Noise: A Guide to Living under Total Surveillance by Laura Poitras. In high school, they worked the maximum number of hours a dependent minor was allowed under state law, at the public library, and when they left for college, the librarian gave them a copy of Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, tipped them off to a beloved minor work of James Baldwin, advised them not to smoke menthol cigarettes, and reminded them that Wheel of Fortune and Sudoku shared idioms of containment. Of this time in their life, their high-school social studies teacher said to them, “Good for you. That’s how Mao did it.” He meant, of course, at the prison library.
The first time they ever drank liquor they were alone in their basement with a c. 1992 bottle of Jose Cuervo, reading Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone aloud until they passed out in an expunged pile of their own vomit. When they were a senior in high school, they made a reformed curricula list for the school because all they read were books by white men for white men in classes taught by white men, in a small town where there was no scenery change to mark 1966 from 1976 from 1986 from 1996, and no internet yet to tell them otherwise. They could see it in the poultry shop signs. They read Jean Genet’s The Blacks in a chair on the high-school lawn. They read Ivanhoe on the eighth-grade-class bus ride to Washington, DC. They skipped school the day after Allen Ginsberg died. They read the collected works of Maya Angelou because they and everyone around them knew the soundtrack to Stella Got Her Groove hit perfect pitch someplace between Mary J. Blige and Maxi Priest. They didn’t have any guides, is what they’re trying to say. They read whatever was not nailed down.
Any emergent hint toward some quasi-radical future came from simple observations: the world was not, could not, be this shitty and paralytic; the quotidian simplicity of the psychic violence they witnessed enacted upon those around them was likely elegiac compared to the enforcement of some larger context they couldn’t yet discern; and the life they were leading, and the lives their parents had led, was the material for some limpid imperial fantasy, in which all the actors keep going to sleep and then waking up again.
No one died in front of them until they were 23 (hospice—NBD). Their mostly estranged second cousin was a heroin addict and sometimes petty thief who was killed by the cops the week of high-school graduation; another second cousin shot herself and her Great Dane in a hot tub the week of college orientation. That was the same summer. Their aunt, who took care of them during those years when they could not (literally) read the metaphoric writing on the wall, was on the schizoid spectrum, one half of a set of identical twins diagnosed with mental states of non-compliance. They used to watch reruns of Alice. They saw the Challenger blow up together, or at least the recuperation of such by the local news.
One time the aunt hallucinated the disc jockey and minor Hollywood Squares celebrity Shadoe Stevens reading lottery numbers to her as she lay on the apartment floor; another winter the aunt had a curling iron stuck in her Crystal Gayle-length hair for several weeks; many other times the aunt would call on the phone, hysterical, usually before the cops were beckoned to intervene in a half-hearted pageant of domestic violence, and ask to talk to them. They are getting too personal. This is a boring history of a Newtonian law about what it means to react with the same pause you are presented with. Everyone originates from space dust.
They recently watched four out of six seasons of the 1980s television program, The Wonder Years. They did this because they had given a talk trying to work through their attachment to the song “Mickey’s Monkey” by the Miracles (1963), and the feeling that it somehow captured the omnipotent failure of their parents’ utopian possibilities, of parents in general, and of possibility, in particular. They also did this because the “normal” response to eight hours of static seating under florescent institutional lighting is to watch the synchronized pixelization of a screen put in the service of narrative, instead of walking away and never going back. They had talked about Marx’s digestion of the Labor Theory of Value and a piece by someone who teaches at Stanford on the gimmick and the institutionalization of “simulation” and how an image could be unattributed as a kind of murder and virtue signaling and the relationship between a collective corporate psychosis and anthropomorphism and ducks and data storage centers and Tony Soprano. They experienced these same feelings watching The Wonder Years. It’s a nostalgia that does not belong to them, but it is so perfectly perfunctory in its grandiloquent composition of that normality—the slight surplus of Keynesian mid-century American capitalism as normal, existence as normal, the slight surplus of Keynesian mid-century American capitalism as existence. Why do they feel it? They looped the first eleven seconds of “Mickey’s Monkey,” where the singer sings something like lumdi lumdi lie, because that is what it sounds like right before the fall. Others probably know this, or feel this too, because Camp Lo loops this same sample on their song, “Lumdi” (2008). One of the members of Camp Lo has a side project called 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s. Another member produced for De La Soul. They do not know how to make an academic argument because all arguments are academic once words leave a body, until death enters.
In “Bartleby the Scrivener,” Melville’s proto-office worker repeats-until-death the refrain, “I would prefer not to,” when confronted with a fresh array of mercantile-industrial capitalism’s recently coined bureaucratic tasks. Bartleby is a copyist; the subtitle of Melville’s work is, “A Story of Wall Street.” A variation on Bartleby’s response goes, “At present I would prefer not to be a little reasonable.” Bartleby’s fate was slightly less plucky but a form of lateral agency all the same—evisceration. They know Herman Melville is a Leo whose family fortunes took a turn for the worse during the Panic of 1837. They don’t hear much about the Panic of 1837, outside of its Wikipedia page. They did recently send a card to their mother manufactured by a private company whose motto is, “When you care enough to send the very best.” Because the work was published before 1923, “Bartleby the Scrivener” is widely available in rich text format all across the World Wide Web, as it is technically the property of the public domain. Their favorite lawsuit around public domain law is Apple Computer, Inc. v. Microsoft Corp., 35 F.3d 1435 (9th Cir. 1994), an exemplar of “the merger doctrine.” The merger doctrine means you are allowed to copy an expression if—and only if—there exist extremely limited other ways to convey what is said. The merger doctrine is a failure of the imagination. Apple sued Microsoft for co-opting their garbage can icon to imply a space for digital “trash.” Melville first published his story anonymously, in some old rag.
They sometimes reflect on the knowledge that in ancient Greece, those who approached the Delphic oracle were called consultants, like Ernst & Young employees. There’s a lesser-known Elias Canetti play where everyone wears a locket inscribed with the date of their death, and a priest or a monk or Anita Baker once told them, “Hope is a revolutionary patience.” Diodorus of Sicily wrote a history (Biblioteca Historica, “The Library”) in 30 BC about a goat herder named Cretas, who followed one of his goats down the rift in Corinth, and by chance, discovered vapors rising from cracks in the Earth, likely Ethylene gas emerging from what would later be pronounced one of the world’s largest fault lines, sometime before the building of the Temple of Apollo. A goat-herding stoner invented archaic psychic life, is what they’re saying. The title of their first master’s thesis was, “The Parallax Position of a Stripper’s Finger,” in a time before that kind of social mediation, when their own algorithm was set to mild indifference. Pythagoras of Samos coined both the words “philosophy” and “mathematics,” so maybe wisdom, in the age of the Capitalocene or otherwise, has always been the recognition that probability is just another way of holding on.
An oldie, but a goodie. They consider that Crush, Texas, was established for a single day. William George Crush, general passenger agent of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, conceived a gratis spectacle: stage a fake train wreck and the people will come. Survive the negative publicity and you will be rehired the following day. Scott Joplin will commemorate your piece with piano accompaniment. They remember an episode of Thirtysomething, where Ellyn tells Hope not to watch Michael sulk. Scott Joplin died of dementia in 1917 after a bout with tertiary syphilis provoked his descent into madness and triggered a terminal stay at the Manhattan State Hospital. The railroad tie transfers the load to the ballast. Next on Thirtysomething, Susannah will move away. Both boilers explode in “The Crush Collision March,” a jaunty ragtime composition, shortly before the three-minute mark. Scott Joplin, like their great-great-grandfather, was buried in a pauper’s grave—same generation, never knew ’em.
Flannery O’Connor once said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.” Milton Friedman once said, “Make the advocacy of radical causes sufficiently remunerative, and the supply of advocates will be unlimited.”
If corporations are a group of people, a person is no longer in an indexical relationship to a La Croix can. Instead a person is equal to, at any given moment, the Sundance Beverage Company, of Warren, MI, at least in terms of First Amendment jurisprudence. In Marx’s consideration of the Labor Theory of Value, or in this half-assed, sentence-length summary of the LTV, the abstract labor of the entire dispossessed working class is capitalism. The relationship, rhetorically, is metonymic. If one reads legal theory, especially around the history of the terms “illegal alien” and “migrant,” one realizes that the US appeals court cases in which law is writ into language have a significant amount of sway over the vernacular path said language will eventually take. They think, following all this, citizen is a metonym for Koch Industries. They aren’t surprised. Why were they thinking about this? Right. When they are asked about their “practice,” they try to explain they don’t have one. Then they try to explain that not having one means existing in the simulated substitutions offered them, which they believe points to the aporia of practice itself, or maybe every last thing is only an indentured servant of the imagination, same as any other. There is no need to label a hyperbolic piece of performance art, to document the bulb filaments from their non-profit office space’s track lighting with JPGs taken at intimate angles and then digitally render them into a photograph of their sonic aura.
Their practice, for a long while, was to work a whole lot due to the excess of student loans they took out when they chose graduate school at a private institution as a temporary escape from the crushing depression resulting from their alienation from their own labor, primarily, and secondarily, from even that initial alienation. Their practice is not to document this or position another mind-crafted object about, through, or around this, which seems to them a variation of naming it—precisely the same feeling brought to the surface after they know the lumdi lumdi lie loop will queue up again. The illegibility of practice is a practice too. Until psychedelically queer socialism, or some indeterminate future “as a whole”–ism, any practice is a practice for capitalism. Like this. They rewrote “Bartleby the Scrivener,” except instead of saying, “I’d prefer not to,” Reality Winner or Paul Manafort or Gregory Sholette or John Ashbery’s The Tennis Court Oath was given smart quotes to place around the word, “Fine.”