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Post-modern gender-bending & Ruth-less role Я∃verseƧ in Our Ecstatic DaysƧ∃Ƨ & ...Y


Dear Internet,                                                                

... to finish off our engagement with Ulysses ... (we've written 14K+ words so far on the subject ... far from just a tweet) ... to us this is processing, for our own devices ... a record of our reading ... for you, The Internet, this is searchable intelligence. A perspective perhaps not yet existing. How many words has Ulysses spawned? Ulysses itself spawned of The Odyssey ... spawned & re-spun ... & now us re-spinning ...

Was reading yesterday about how they—«scientists»—can implant memories into mice. How «Our memory changes every single time it's being recorded. That's why we can incorporate new information into old memories and this is how a false memory can form…». In accessing memory, we in a sense destroy its original form. Memories are not fixed Uniform Resource Locators ... at least not digital ones ... or maybe URLs can be corrupted, depending on how or how many times they are accessed? When we remember dreams, we destroy original subconscious intent. By definition, the subconscious can't be conscious. And our memories, when remembered, become only the memory of remembering them. ...

The danger in writing about books is ruining it for others. But Ulysses is more than just a book. It has come to stand for the whole body of work that has spun off of it & keeps spinning ... a canonical juggernaut, itself originally stemming from Homer's seed. Or is this flogging a dead horse? Regardless, we can't help ourselves. We are human, writers, ever in pursuit.

Ulysses stacked

18. Penelope

When we started this final episode of Ulysses, we were some 200 miles from home. When the Qatar Airways wheels touched down at JFK, our eyes were on the letters «5/-» in the surrounding mid-sentence ... « ... sure enough that must have been a spectacle on the stage imagine paying 5/- in the preserved seats for that to see him and Simon Dedalus too ...». Yes, preserved. The final 8 pages we read as we were taxiing ... & then waiting to file out of the plane, finishing the last word as we were finally free to exit the plane. What are the chances of such timing?

Up until this point, Ulysses had been a mostly macho, father-son bonding book ... but with Molly's final soliloquy we finally get the female perspective ... with a vengeance. Or do we? This is what we remember on the first reading, or what we remember people saying about it. In the introduction to this version, it says that «Carl Jung (after initially disparaging Ulysses) wrote to the author to praise his great knowledge of 'the real psychology of women'.» But insightful as Carl Jung is, he's a dude. All he can speak of is the male perspective of the female psyche. Joyce's wife Nora, who Molly was evidently modeled after, said that Joyce knew «nothing at all» about women ... which is also not fair, as surely you at least have to give him credit for knowing about women from the male perspective.

Book of Ruth

s/he (from the Book of Ruth ... read on)

Whether it be 'realistically' male or female, Molly's soliloquy is definitely at times vulgar & sexually obsessed ... she says things like: «he can stick his tongue 7 miles up my hole as hes there my brown part then [...] Ill tighten my bottom well and let out a few smutty words smellrump or lick my shit or the first mad thing comes into my head» ... more like the warped & juvenile male fantasy of the ideal woman. Molly re-imagines her earlier tryst with Blazes Boylan, a «stallion driving it up» ... & fantasizes about Stephen's cleanliness. And she muses on the beauty of female breasts & the ugliness of male genitalia.

We also discover that perhaps Molly is not the tramp that Bloom's jealous mind makes her out to be. For example, of all the assumed infidelities Bloom lists in the previous chapter, we find out that Boylan is the only one ... & this was only after 10 years of abstinence, which seems more attributable to Bloom ... not that Molly faults him, but hey, she's got needs.

In comparison to Penelope, in The Odyssey, Molly is quite the feminist ... the modern woman (or post-modern woman). While Penelope sits & waits for Ulysses to return (also after a 10-year abstinence, though the Trojan war is a more traditionally forgivable excuse than grieving for a lost son) to take care of the suitors (with extreme manly violence), Molly handles the suitors (the string of men Bloom is jealous about) on her own terms. And Bloom, the archetype post-modern man, unabashedly lets her. The extent of Bloom's assertion of control (to regain his home) is to bring Molly breakfast in bed.

book of ruth

also from Book of Ruth ...

the female p.o.v.

Blake Butler wrote a piece the other day on why his favorite narrators are women, with the disclaimer that he doesn't «believe gender is fully defined by body» ... which seems like the right approach, one that Joyce would likely also agree with. It should be noted that Butler himself is quite the channeler of female spirits (see Ever) ... not that we can vouch for authenticity (being male, at least physically). Interesting results happen when you think outside the box ... outside the black or white definitions that pigeon-hole gender.

In fact, if you step outside of this -X vs. -Y chromosomal box, we'd go as far as to say that Molly is a he & Bloom is a she. Or at least they are two opposing, gray-shaded manifestations of Joyce's own psyche. Molly definitely wears the pants. And Bloom is the virgin in the trinity. And what of Joyce himself? What percent shade of 'female' was he? The Joyce that used to cower behind his hunk of Hemingway when they got into bar fights.

Just yesterday we had margaritas at the boat basin with a she that started her life as a he ... a post-op transgender. And why not? Sometimes people just get born into bodies not becoming to their mindset. And as writers why not act out/exorcise genderness you otherwise might not be able to express?

There's always the genderless route too, the one Miranda Mellis takes in The Revisionist, where the narrator is neither he nor she, or at least never specified either way.

The book we are reading now, Our Ecstatic Days by Steve Erickson, is also told from a womanly perspective (or at least it starts off as such, before switching to 3rd person). She meets a male screen-writer (who you can't help but wonder if it's Erickson himself) who she criticizes for not having the slightest idea how to write female characters. After some defensive debate, he concedes that his female characters are «forbidden iconography of the male psyche.» Fair enough.

Earlier this week we also 'read' Book of Ruth by Robert Seydel. Ruth is his female alter ego, his fictional aunt, who also happens to be friends with Joseph Cornell.

Robery Seydel Book of Ruth

Book of Ruth & our fancy avian platter

We say 'read' in quotes as the book is a collage of collages & poems, that piece together the story of Ruth—a rabbit-obsessed 'Sunday artist' from Queens. It is fragmented & schizophrenic for sure ... hard to peel off a narrative/story in the traditional sense ... perhaps the point (the novel itself a holographic collage), but it felt hard to grasp the whole (if we consider it to be a novel or book object). Though as a character sketch it works ... or as a framing device for an art series.

presumably Ruth

presumably Ruth?

Were it not for the description on the Siglio Press site (which, at the moment appears to be hacked by Syrian rebel hackers, otherwise we'd link to it), you might think the book was a work of nonfiction ... an assemblage of found art & text fragments that Seydel puts together into a sort of scrapbook to try to make sense of his aunt.


We found ourselves more drawn to the images, collages, that speaking of Cornell (probably no coincidence) bear a striking resemblance (in 2-d).


2 pages from Book of Ruth

Here's some textual lines that stood out for us:

«I like animals & dirt.
I'll invent who I am, against what is.
My name & tie: a Queens of the mind.
Walking to Utopia Parkway is like shipping out to sea.
A dictionary will follow me, leaping like a hare.
Schumtz is my sign.
I rearrange time. It's confused in me.
This envelope contains stars.
Hoops & diadems; heads.
As my hair dries my mind goes.
The impossible air of feathers.»

Earlier this morning, our pair of neighborhood peregrines dive-bombed shrieking past our window ... the first we've seen of them since returning from Nepal.

And the typewritten pages from Book of Ruth lend a certain irreversible conviction (that we are fast losing in this digital age of word processing):

Seydel: Book of Ruth

text from Book of Ruth

Why is that no one ever uses the word ruth, but ruthless is in common use?

As mentioned, we've also been reading Our Ecstatic Days by Steve Erickson. It's about a lake that appears one day in the middle of LA ... whatever that means, you decide ... but we couldn't help but wonder if the nearby Salton Sea had a bearing on the book ... a real life ecological disaster in which agricultural canals burst their banks & aborted the contents of the Colorado River into what was previously the Salton sink.

Steve Erickson: Our Ecstatic Days

Our Ecstatic Days looming over our own tidal river

We spent a few months once on the shores of the Salton Sea ... working on a geophysics exploration project. Every 2nd or 3rd day (when we weren't dragging around wires in the nearby desert) our sole responsibility was to sit in a truck near a generator & occasionally flip a switch ... needless to say it was a good job to read ... it was during this time we read Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You. Stanford's famous line from this book—«it wasn't a dream, it was a flood»—could also apply to Our Ecstatic Days ... a flooding that is biblical/apocalyptic, but also surreal, that means more than just water rising, but something deeper swelling in the human psyche.

Can't say for sure what the lake stands for (still not finished with the book) ... maybe the puddling lake is a metaphor for cultural erosion ... or the general malaise that seems to be consuming our society (LA in particular). Of course the lake could be death itself ... or a plague, abortion, drugs, depression, suicide, you name it ... it's a vague enough metaphor that can be applied to whatever situation.

The book starts with an epigraph:

If there's a higher light
      let it shine on me
      let it shine on me through the trees ...

'cause I know this sea wants to carry me ...

... and it goes on. Erickson attributes the quote as «an obscure pop song of the early Twenty-First Century» ... & through the book he keeps alluding to it & requoting lines here & there. The song seemed familiar to us ... but we couldn't put our finger on it ... it's still driving us crazy ... ends up (after a bit of googling) the song is indeed rather obscure, Opal Moon by a Merrie Amsterburg (strange coincidence in relation to the '... Moon Says I Love You' referenced above). But this wasn't the song we were thinking of ... there's Midnight Special, with its line: «Let the Midnight Special, shine a light on me» ... (where the moon is replaced by a train (also strangely coincidental in that Erickson's previous book is The Sea Came in at Midnight)) ... but this still isn't the song on the tip of our tongue. The voice in our head sounds like Morrissey & the lyrics «Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head ... see, the sea wants to take me» ... also bear some resemblance ... but this still isn't it. Maybe this is the point, why Erickson doesn't attribute Amsterburg's name to, but leaves it arbitrarily unspecified—as if the lyrics have become a culmination of an appropriated host of popular songs before it, almost like a traditional folk song (like Midnight Special) ... common knowledge.

As mentioned, the story is at first told through a female voice, a single mother with a kid. Sarah Connor was the visual that first popped into our head reading it, an über-protective mother who fears the lake is coming to swallow her child. Not that Our Ecstatic Days has much in common with Terminator ... it has more the feel of Ballard's The Drowned World (both in content & writing style) ... or later, as identities shift, Mulholland Drive (which geographically is where the lake more or less emerges).

Not only do her delusions lead her to believe the lake is stealing her child, but it deludes her to think that she is responsible for the lake: «... for a minute I'm confused, certain I've given birth to the lake. I can still smell the dream.» ... & the latter bit a nod to Stanford? ... especially as again, she says: «I watch the center of the lake waiting, my heart still pounds from my dream—but now it isn't a dream: the lake is coming for him.»

While the book is initially narrated by the single mother, Kristen (who evidently is also in Erickson's other book, The Sea Came in at Midnight, at a younger age) ... the perspective shifts to 3rd person, but follows the same woman, or an alternate version of her, in an alternate world, as if her character splinters & bifurcates ... into the realm of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics ... only later to reconstitute & pulse in one hearty thread.

In relation to what we were saying above about memory & URLs, interesting he refers to L.A. as «a city of drowning addresses.» Addresses that need to be constantly re-written to accommodate the rising & receding waters. In this sense, you get the feeling the lake represents our collective unconscious ... a subconsciousness rising to become conscious ... like remembering dreams. And the occupants shift & occupy other shells like hermit crabs.

«It was my room, or a version of it. Articles tacked to the walls if not the same articles, books on the shelves with a lot of the same titles as mine [...] There was a child's bedroom except it was that of an older child ... »

Tethered to this psychogeography/hydrology, there's a certain sense of biology, carried by the lake ... in particular female reproductive biology ... the flood cycle as menstrual cycle/gestation.

And the book is almost science fiction in its wild & speculative premise, & tho rarely does he mention real-world events, he alludes vaguely to such things as a man standing in front of a row of tanks & this passage is obviously in reference to the events of 9/11:

«The lake leveled everything for a man who never looks up, and in fact coincided neatly with his new fear since, not so long before he came to Los Angeles, back on the east coast he had been not a man afraid to look up but, to the contrary, a man who lived in the sky, riding floating boxes. Ironically, once it was the sky that offered him solace from ground-level—to be precise the ground level of city squares; ironically, once it was the ground he fled, until the day the sky betrayed him and came crashing down. When that happened he became a man caught in limbo between the sky and the ground, someone who lives looking only straight ahead in a state of hovering, for which a lake should have been perfect. But as both the mirror of the sky above and the window of the ground below, the lake became the worst of all: liquid ground, liquid sky: lake zero.»

The lake (aptly named Zed) as the dark cloud of collective (& collecting) denial, in symmetric duality. In these moments, Erickson has an air of Delillo about him.

Structurally, by the third section (2017... the other two sections being 2004 & 2009) the book resembles House of Leaves or the already mentioned Ever by Blake Butler, in that the psychogeography splits from the nebulous curvature of lakes, into a series of boxy house-of-mirror-type rooms, the text reshaping itself accordingly, thru halls & smaller rooms. And a thread from the previous section continues running through the middle of the pages thru the rest of the book, as if to thread it all together ...

Tho this is about as far into the book as we got so we can't say yet whether it succeeds ..

In sad Calamari news, some dipshit American family in Greece caught the 2nd hexapus ever seen in the wild ... then proceeded to flog it & eat it with lemon. «It tasted just like a normal octopus» said the fuckwit father ... «but now I feel really bad.»


Headed west for a spell ... flying into the town (our hometown) listed in the below page from Book of Ruth—and then hopefully to the mouth of the Columbia River ... the location for The Becoming (which should be back from the printer by the time we get back) ...


  >> NEXT: Vineland, Portlandia defenestrating the Oregon coast in the context of The Becoming

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