An Elegy to The Moldy Jar of Capers We Bought From Loblaws

Gone are the days when goods, preserves,
of infinite variety,
yon grocer, or proprieter,
ably commanded, behind cash.

Goons in the present, by contrast,
(oh! the free reign allowed!)
yield to no man, and gaiely rip
and tear, and open all they can.

Green mold forms where once was pristine,
others, blind, suspecting nothing,
(yes, completely fooled) purchase
a lot more than they bargained.

The Lost Form of The Known World

The Known World by Edward P. Jones is, for the most part, too plodding and serious a book. Maybe that is too harsh criticism: the character’s suffering is worthy and deeply felt, and there is enough life to give the book a spark. But it’s slow in that contemporaneous literary way, and it was released in paperback (one year, two years after its first print?) with a selection of stodgily researched “facts” and tepid questions for the book club set, already hinting that, as a work, it is “major”. Jones is an excellent writer, but the book fails partly because it knows its audience too well; it is too finely marketed.

One and a half years later I can pick out many moments, but I cannot give you an accurate summary of the plot. It is probably impossible to resolve the idea of slavery, and Jones gives a good account of it, but the book feels incomplete. Perhaps it is only that I wish the book Jones had written were another, one that he hints at very briefly, in a single chapter.

A powerful white man loses his family to sickness and his estate to creditors. He is ruined, and sets his manor on fire. It burns to the ground. For a time the property is abandoned.

The crops would escape the fire and would thrive, tended by no one. The fields had not had such bounty in more than seven years. There would be no harvest in the usual sense, as no one came to reap what the slaves had sown. Had someone counted up what the crops the fields had to give, it would have come to more than $325 a slave.

The man is totally humbled:

Counsel left that second day, heavy with all the sorrow he would ever know, and went west and then south, avoiding all human beings as best he could. He did not care, but it occurred to him in South Carolina that what he had done was a crime, since much of what he had belonged to others. He continued on, aimless, saddled with the memories of his loved ones and the end of a plantation that even men in Washington, D.C., knew about.

He continues west. The country becomes rough; the people are rougher. It is wild and unknown. He is threatened and warned off, but he does not waver; he is heading for Texas. He loses his horse in thick vegetation. He cuts a path but the horse will not come (is it afraid of snakes?) and he shoots it. The One Thousand And One Nights is invoked. “How easy it had all been for the man and his carpet.”

A few flies appeared immediately above the horse. “What is it that you want of me?” Counsel asked God. He sat down, and more flies, bigger than any he had known in North Carolina, came to the horse in a black cloud. He took off his hat and tried to wave them away, but more came as if the waving had been a signal for them to come. “What do you want me to do?” he asked God. “Tell me what it is.” He looked up and was surprised that the buzzards were circling so soon. He shot at one but missed and no sooner had the sound of the shot gone away than the buzzards began to land.

Counsel thinks of his dead family, his little girls, the Bible. He asks more questions of God. The buzzards come down and join the flies, feasting on the horse, “and ignoring the man who still had some life in him.”

The next chapter the book returns to Virginia. Much later, Counsel is re-introduced and works, cuckolded, with his cousin the sheriff. This strikes me as unnecessary. It is with his horse that Counsel’s story should end. I can think of no more satisfying conclusion. The image is more powerful, the aftershocks more poignant; it is the one image from the book my subconscious chose (even wrongly) to keep in rotation. Ten years from now, it is what I will still remember. A book filled with such powerful images, written in Jones’ masterful language, with dead-ends and constant action, would have few equals.

Of course, that book already exists. I can think of a few of its forms off the top of my head: Midnight’s Children, One Thousand and One Nights, Le Morte D’Arthur, Don Quixote.

Michael Clayton, part 2

Last night I woke to the wild inconsonant babbling of a dwarf camped outside our bedroom door. I rushed out to meet him, advising that he should keep his voice down—Lisa was sleeping. He was suddenly quiet, and began rooting around multifarious layers of his clothing with thick, hairy hands. The pungency of this-or-that layer, as he exposed dirty skin and clothing usually trapped in fungal gardens of sweat, oil, and body heat was literally breathtaking. I covered my nose and mouth in disgust. Finally he extracted a single, creased, sheet of paper, ancient and near rotting. Its contents are printed below, and it seems to be a second part to the discussion of Michael Clayton that I posted Friday. The fact of the dwarf—-who disappeared as I was inspecting the aforementioned document—-seems to lend credence to the fact that yesterday’s original was conceived by a genii, or at the very least some other magical or mystical creature (certainly not the dwarf).

Michael Clayton’s moment of clarity comes at the side of the road, after he has been demonstrably covered in his own thin film of excrement, running flack for a pent-up and wealthy little man who has just fled the scene of a hit-and-run. The moment is shared release, for Clayton and the audience, who come quickly and with intensity to this point of the movie (about twenty minutes in) knowing very little about the protagonist and his surroundings.

Clayton finds himself in the country. He stops his car and calmly ascends a hill. At its apex are three unflinching horses standing in a line. Clayton watches them. We breathe. In the background, Clayton’s car explodes. Enter moment of clarity.

We are transported backwards four days in time. The plot unravels. We discover there is something not wrong in Arthur, and a very good reason for his insanity. He has, like many of the characters in the movie, been playing a part counter to his own humanity, harnessed by a law firm eager to make use of his desperate energy. Like Clayton, he is homeless; unlike Clayton, he has a home. He’s come out of the right side of his moment of clarity: it’s understood that he will no longer support or tolerate the injustices he has helped perpetrate. His story, however, is not the story, and it ends, violently and with unfortunate necessity.

The plot builds. Clayton’s path seems clear and fixed. He delays, but only psychologically. He prostrates himself before his law firm and begs for money. He is good at his job, but frustrated, underpaid, and held close to their body. He calms himself with illicit gambling, a habit he thought he’d managed to break. He finds himself at the home of a pent-up man drowning in his own opulence… and the hillside, and the horses.

Immediately prior to the horses there is a car chase. Clayton is pursued by a team of professional killers intent on detonating his car—an interesting sequence, because though we have an idea of what is coming, Clayton has none and we are tense with anticipation. The second explosion, the second clarity.

Time folds in on itself, creating a duel moment. This time we are not allowed breath, natural beauty, but are witness to Clayton’s grief. The horses are watching him, like uncomprehending monuments. The car explodes. The movie crystallises. Clayton escapes. He is reborn. He is dead. He is covered in shit. He is insane.

He is Shiva, god of death. Guided, he is provided explicitly with all of the answers we saw him obtain inexplicitly. He directs his energy properly. The world ends. He watches the world, as it continues, calmly.

The discussion lacks a narrative besides the narrative. This seems like an exercise. I will let the creator know my thoughts (and yours, if you have any) in a detailed essay I will compose and then push through the neck of a bottle, which I will then seal and cast into the sea.</p.

A Digression on the Virtue of Hermits
by Obidex Curia

The first hermit was Adam, and, for a time, he wanted nothing; this is the natural mode of those in that profession. The last true hermit I know of was television detective Trudeau Trudeau: if you make the allowance (as I have) that the world in which he operated (the small, insignificant town of Lascowe, Manitoba) was an allegorical world of phantasms that didn’t, in fact, exist, but served only as a metaphorical representation of his soul. The men and women that he dealt with were not as they appeared (crooked landowners, poachers, murderers, smugglers and loggers) but demons, and his was the most eternal of struggles. To accept payment and bribes from the cast of scoundrels and malcontents who offered them would be as bad as accepting death or destruction from the hands of those who willed it. A compromise would mean nothing less than complete forfeiture, a full transmigration of his soul into the body of just another phantasmal demon.

Far be it from me to suggest that you have undergone your own transmigration, and that the words you are reading now are being probed by twisted, arcane eye-stalks, or being handled with red, veiny fingers that end in long claws. If you are a demon you probably do not know it. But you are very certainly a demon: especially if you do not live the life of a hermit, or at the very least that of a particularly devout monk.

I don’t care whether or not you have religion, or if you subscribe to any particular belief system (I have one and it is not Christ, though I find it useful to associate myself with Him), what I care for only is the purity of your desires. If you live in a large cosmopolitan city, with wide boulevards, numerous restaurants and shops, and ample outlets for all of the pleasures of the body (in other words, Chanto), I find it hard to believe that you can be anything else but completely subjugated to all of your wild achings and fantasies. It may not be impossible, but it is very difficult: especially if you are weak-willed (as most of you are) or find yourself in the presence of large amounts of money, for money is nothing more than a contract for the satisfaction of future aimless desire.

For eighteen years (as long as I have existed) I have dedicated myself to the complete eradication of trivial and inconsequential needs. I am a man unchained; if you do not believe me, you might ask my parents, for I still live with them and they see me every day (besides being proof of the worthiness of their testimony, in itself this is a meaningless detail). The only needs they meet are the most essential, and I can confidently assure you that I provide for myself when it comes to anything spiritual.

I have taken my first steps as a hermit already, and there is no doubt that some of you might have heard of me through these actions. It does not dishearten me to hear that I am openly mocked for my single-handed assault on hypocrisy, that I am laughed at for my (as I’ve heard them described) petty disagreements on semantics, morality, or indulgences, as well as the somewhat more pointed acts of flipping over card-tables and disruption of carts selling worthless, distracting, trinkets at market. What concerns me most is the purification of the phantasmal world that I am part of, even if that world is large and unconquerable, and my quest one of Sisyphean impossibility. It is good training.

As a child I realised very quickly the necessities of my situation, and set myself firm and unstraying from that path: I have read and digested numerous books on survival in cold climates; my english is very good, and I believe that (in some quarters) I am known for it; every day I prepare myself with a sermon (an episode of Trudeau Trudeau!— no doubt you’ve missed its rich metaphysics) and its active study. In short, I am very near to realising my desire. What I could I accomplished on my own, what little else I needed (and could not be avoided, such as my plane ticket) I received from the charity and support of my parents.

This letter I consider a gift, to all the citizens of Chanto and the surrounding country. It is an alarm. It is notification of my departure. Very shortly I will be leaving for the very edge of the world, the northern frontier. I have picked out a point of arrival: the small and remote township of Anvelle, Ontario. Its size is deliberate: the phantasmal world of demons will be manageable, perhaps even conquerable. This is my final goal, which I recognise may take years; my entire life, perhaps. Whatever suffering I undergo as a result, whatever hardships, will be penance for the final cleansing of my soul.

I say that this is an alarm for two reasons: one is it is never to late for you to pass back to the plane of reality, and through long struggle, purge your world of its demons. With my departure, your warnings will become obtuse and very few; you will not have my help to decipher them. The second alarm is for the whole of Chanto: as a city you have become impossible. Much work needs to be done. Commerce will have to be muted. Inharmonious and easy leisure will have to come to an end. Your spirit cannot be bought by pleasure. It must be worked at and tempered by suffering and noble action. For Chanto to become a city worthy of habitation, all of these things must be considered and put into action. For my part, I leave you.