Big in Japan, Column 2: What We Talk About When We Talk About Tentacle Porn

So, I wrote a new column over at Wordsmoker! Come on over and wriggle around in a big bunch of musings inspired by tentacle porn classic Legend of the Overfiend! Just click here!


Big In Japan Column

[image by someecards/Kora In Hell]

So, there's this new group project called Wordsmoker I've been asked to be a part of, and I finally wrote something for them, as a part of a planned, ongoing "column" where I muse and muse about Japan and whetever else happens to pop in my head and then I post it. You can find it here. Enjoy!


Daedelus as Dracula: Internet Writing as "Undead Language"

...the truth is as a form, [blogging, or internet writing in general] is very new. It reminds me more of when Greek culture went from an oral culture to a written one, of the ambivalence then that they expressed about written language. Oral and written content is differently unstable—oral content requires a precise memory and a performer who won’t editorialize. Written content doesn't easily allow the author the room to feel differently later in a way that's meaningful to the reader at the time they're reading. Internet content takes the core instability of each tradition—the thing that makes it problematic, as it were, or troubling, and fuses them. In the process it creates something that is neither and it makes it public and it increases the pace at which these ideas move.

As it does this, it fuses to the image, the static one and the moving one that speaks. It's neither the dead language the Greeks feared nor is it the living one they loved. Inside these terms, like life but not alive, immediate but not alive, fast but not alive, it makes a language that is undead. This is the new thing we're all figuring out—plastic, immediate, and permanent narrative communication.

This is from Alex Chee's perceptive and telling meditations on the nature of writing on the internet; the whole thing can be found on his blog Koreanish. I plan to add my own thoughts about this a bit in the future, as an expansion of my musings on the Emily Gould kerfuffle and internet writing as variably public self-performance here . But I wanted to make this bookmark now, while it is still timely, at least for myself.


Another Story Post: "Vending Machine"

So, this little story/fictionalized recollection has been kicking around my hard drive for quite a while now. It was first written for a magazine that subsequently changed editorial focus after being bought out, and then I submitted it to a contest it wasn't all that suited for, so now I'm inclined to give it to the home for all the broken writerly toys of the world: the internet. Enjoy.

Vending Machine

I edged closer to where Masami sat, chucking an edamame skin into a bowl with what I hoped was casual panache as I scooted across the tatami. The afterparty tonight was in a place that tried for a retro, dark-wood-and-paper kind of charm, Tanizaki mystique slathered over the grimier realities of a twenty-four-hour bar catering to sweaty rockers prolonging their post-gig buzzes. Somebody’d already had to take one skinny bassist home; there had been blood coloring the half-digested yakisoba in the sink below his face when he’d been discovered leaning motionless with his eyes closed and his forehead cooling against the bathroom mirror. Soon the usual suspects would begin the half-joking humiliations that constituted bonding in this world, though sometimes it seemed more like bondage: out of the corner of my eye I could see Nobu conspiring with an ugly dude I didn't recognize, gesturing toward one of his favorite targets, a skinny, sweet guy with newly-dyed blue hair whom everyone called Dice, hot sauce in his hands and a dangerous glint in his eyes. Poor Dice, I thought, but only in passing; I had other things on my mind.

Masami was a drummer for a band called Suck Piggy, and he'd caught in my mind like a fishhook since the first moment I saw him, though I'd be hard-pressed to explain exactly why. He was slightly pudgy, with black-rimmed glasses and a rather misguided asymmetrical haircut, but somehow these things endeared when ordinarily they would have repelled. I'd jumped and sweated along with the boys (and one tough girl who bristled metal spikes from head to toe) up front all through their set in the tiny club. To be honest, though, their brand of cacophony and punky posturing had blended into the other bands playing tonight until it'd become like aural wallpaper, or like the chipping black walls of the club itself: just so much atmosphere setting off the guilty, exhilarating stab of lust that sometimes feels like the secret point of live music in the first place. He'd pounded at his drums, his faux-vintage Ramones shirt shading darker and darker as he sweated, and the uncomplicated smile on his face hadn't wavered even once. After the set, I'd congratulated him on his performance in order to have an excuse to touch him, thumping him on the back with an assumed air of masculine unity. He'd grinned up at me and said he had an English question.

Being a white boy in Japan means being treated like a vending machine that spits out English words and phrases instead of condoms or coffee in a can. But sometimes, like then, it allowed conversations to continue that would have otherwise died, and so I'd leaned into his curiosity as if into a warm shower. He was asking about the name of his band: someone had told him that it meant something dirty in America. I'd told him that it did, but that I'd thought that that was the point. He explained that the lead singer had had a dream about a pig who could suck anything into its snout, books and chairs and cats and people, and that he had woken up filled with a kind of affection for this “suck piggy” and named the band after it. If you go to America, it won't be a problem, I'd reassured him, and he'd grinned up at me again. Gotta go, see you later, and then I'd followed his back with my eyes as he wove through the crowd away from me, and, yes, they dipped to explore the seat of his retreating ripped jeans as I did. A vending machine needs to get paid, after all, even if it wasn't in coins.

I want to go away to America or England or Australia, Masami was telling me now, his eyes starry with alcohol and imagined foreign skies. I'd successfully maneuvered next to him, hoping he was too drunk to notice my thigh against his, or, better, that he did and didn’t mind. Kazu, the singer who had had the dream about the pig with the world-devouring snout, was down to his boxers. It seemed only a matter of time before his pubic hair would be set aflame by a giddy fellow rocker, just like always. I marveled at the waitress who slalomed through this naked mischief with a resolute smile and an ability to decipher the drink-blurred orders as they were shouted at her. As Kazu slid out of his boxers, he backed into her as they caught on his heel. He turned and they smiled and bowed at each other courteously, then went back to their respective activities. Likewise, I turned back to my conversation with Masami. He was talking about wanting to learn English.

How long did it take to learn Japanese? I want to learn English as well as you know Japanese. What should I do? I'm really bad at studying. I was never good at school, that’s why I failed the college tests. I always liked playing my drums, I just kept doing that. I love it. I love my band. But I want to leave Japan. I've never even been to Hokkaido. I want to tour all over the world. Have you been to England? Is it nice? What about Australia? That's closer. I heard their English is different. What does it sound like?

I kept nodding, showered in urgent, meandering questions and beery breath as Masami circled the need within himself as if it were a drain. I felt the enormity of my privilege like a suit of white fat muffling the nerves on my skin where we touched. Masami leaned his head against my shoulder and told me I was so nice to come to their shows and talk to him. His glasses clunked against my jaw and I straightened them absently, a gesture so intimate in its offhandedness it would never occur in America except between known boyfriends. Yet here, where the rules were both fundamentally the same yet so different in practice, guys lit each other's cigarettes, embraced, rode each other piggyback, stagedove naked, shared drinks, mimed fellatio, even kissed each other onstage, all the while bathed in the bonfire of their unassailable masculinity as their girlfriends watched with bemused smiles, leaning against walls holding drinks and waiting for the tomfoolery to be over. Sandra, the British woman who’d introduced me into this scene initially, toasted me from across the room, raising her umé-and-soda with a sly smile of sardonic congratulations. She had a tendency to complain about how none of the boys touched her like they touched me, forgetting that they did so precisely because it meant nothing, that my body was a safe zone because it was presumed innocent of meaning or complication. When one of these guys finally decided to touch her, it would be fraught and romantic and transcendent, nothing like when I was challenged to participate in an international dick-size competition over a few beers or when some dude stagedove sweat-slicked and shirtless into my arms because he knew I wouldn't let him fall. It was hard to remember that, though, as Masami nestled drunkenly further into the hollow of my collarbone.

I wondered again why I was so stuck on him. Was it his seeming vulnerability, the softness of his outline amid the hard, smooth bodies of his bandmates and friends? I checked out the dragon tattoo that snaked down to disappear into the top of Kazu's ass as he bent with his back to us to pour beer into someone’s glass, part of a geisha parody his friends were finding generally hilarious. I remembered telling Masami at the last Suck Piggy gig I'd gone to that I dated boys; he hadn't seemed terribly shocked and had just nodded in reply. I suppose it just seemed to him like it went with the territory with this unfathomable foreigner, one more strange detail amid all the other ones, large and small, that constituted the differences between us. I'd wanted to continue the half-joking tone of our conversation, so I'd leaned over and lied that he needn't worry, that I was after someone else. He'd responded with a mock-offended look, asking, why not him? I'd told him he was number three; if I struck out with the other two, I'd give him a try. He'd smiled with a surprising lack of guile and clinked his beer against mine, then turned to rejoin his bandmates at the merch table.

And now he was stirring against my collarbone, pawing back up toward the surface of his drunken haze. Instead of the usual fireworks of burning pubic hair, it seemed that Nobu had convinced Dice that he should put Kazu's dick in his mouth. Kazu whooped and pumped the air with his fist in anticipation of Dice's humiliation. Dice resisted, but was smiling gamely in a way that said he was on the verge of just getting it over with, of attempting to climb up out of the ranks of the humiliated by burrowing just a little bit deeper into them. Nobu leaned back to watch. Masami struggled to sit up straighter, as this was rather far for things to go even in this crowd. Sandra was hiding her face behind her hand but peeking between her fingers. Dice kept leaning in then pulling back, making a series of hilarious faces, and then finally contact was made. Kazu pulled a cartoonish face of his own and pumped his hips exaggeratedly. Masami turned away, laughing, his face burrowing into my chest. My arm had found its way around his shoulder. Dice was clowning, spitting over and over into an ashtray, while Nobu hunched in hysterics.

Masami looked up at me. How did it work out with the top two? It took me a second to figure out what he meant, then remembered. His face was so close. I forced a laugh. Aw, I got shot down. I manufactured a rueful smile and he grinned back. It's all about you now. I felt a rush of lust course through me as I said this, but instead of propelling me, it gave me pause. Was I just responding to Masami's seeming receptivity, turned on more by my apparent power than by anything particular to him? I knew virtually nothing about him, and the reverse was true as well. What did it mean to cling to each other with false nonchalance, pretending to slouch drunkenly as we covertly rifled one another for comfort and belonging amid the frenetic machismo colliding around us? Was I just using him as a way to feel like I belonged in this scene I had no real right to call my own, a way to preserve the buoyant camaraderie that simultaneously welcomed and excluded me? And what was he using me for? I looked down at him and saw that he was still smiling drunkenly. There seemed to be no one else outside the circle formed by my right arm around his shoulder and his reaching across both our bodies to pour a bit of his beer into my mouth. I leaned forward, my jaw jutting toward the bottle, feeling ridiculous but glad for a reason to pull myself out of my thoughts.

And then the room exploded with laughter. I startled a little and beer ran down my chin. We both turned our heads to look back out at the room. Kazu was jumping, doubled over with his hands in his crotch, howling in pain. Nobu was laughing, but so was Dice, who was twiddling a bottle of hot sauce between his thumb and forefinger, pointing as his tormenter, now the tormentee, doused his nether regions with glassful after glassful of water. Masami and I gasped with laughter almost despite ourselves; the reversal was just too perfect, and unexpected.

Everyone’s attention was on Kazu and his sizzling dick. The waitress stepped around him with pointed politeness, a clutch of mugs clinking demurely from where they blossomed from her fists. I turned back toward Masami and clunked my jaw against his glasses again. I stopped thinking, and then my lips were against his. I stopped thinking, and then all that was left was softness doubling over on itself and connoting infinity. Maybe that was the trick; maybe it was just a matter of stopping my brain just long enough to disappear into the moments I wanted to curl up and stay in, then accepting that once I did so, they were over. Our lips parted and we blinked for a second at each other. And then Masami pulled back and took another swig of his beer. I looked back at the room and saw Kazu putting his clothes back on. Dice sipped his drink, still grimacing at his spice-lined lips, but his eyes glittered with mischief and triumph. Sandra eyed me ironically. Dice and Nobu shared a high-five. Masami asked me if I was going to the next Suck Piggy show two weeks from then in Osaka. I said sure. Our legs no longer touched, and my arm withdrew almost of its own accord from around his shoulder. Beer swilled around in my mouth as I wondered if I was sober enough not to crash into something as I rode my bike home. I decided I would probably be okay, and gathered my stuff to leave.


3, 2, 1, 2, 3

So I wrote a story as part of yet another Gawker activity, this one involving stories inspired by one of a set of photos of various groups of three. This is my threesome:

Read their story here: The Eternal Thread

Click around for other stories and photos as well. Be careful of the post titled "Bears!" if you are at work, however (the others are safe, at least in terms of visual content). And if you do go read it, come back and tell me what you think!


That Fetish Photo You All Seem To Want To See So Badly

One of my hobbies as a weblog purveyor is to look at my little sitemeter to see who is lookin' at my stuff and what brought them there. I think all proprietors of little blogs do this; it's kind of like being able to catch a mirror looking back at you. A lot of people get here through google image searches - popular ones are the picture of the bookcase with the seat in it that I used in my library-witching post, and, oddly, the picture of the masquerade ball I used in my Emily Gould/Caracole post. And the third most popular seems to be a photo that I used briefly to illustrate my Imperial Leather post, then took down in favor of the blinking soap advertisement. But google thinks it's still here, and my sitemeter's blowing up with short-term visits by surely disappointed old-timey-photos-of-women-in-lingerie-with-a-whip enthusiasts.

So, without further ado, here is That Fetish Photo You All Seem To Want To See So Badly:


Celebrating Academic Writing #2: Imperial Leather

Okay! So, way back in June I started what I quite optimistically referred to as a "weekly-or-so" feature sharing some of my favorite excerpts of academic writing. Ha ha! I guess I should have said "very occasional" feature! But regardless, I've been getting back in the swing of this weblogging thing and so I decided to share another excerpt, this time from another one of my favorite academitrices, Anne McClintock.

What makes Anne McClintock so special to me is the sly and seemingly effortless way that she braids together theories of gender, domination, race and the post-colonial in her work. Many people use this type of theoretical cross-pollination in their methodology, of course, but McClintock stands out because she uses her raw material to push back at theory, transforming it and making it able to speak to a wider range of phemonena by the time she's done. Her writing on a theoretical level mimics the cultural processes she's describing - her book, Imperial Leather, describes how contact with the colonies profoundly changed the culture of the colonizer, rewriting the history of British domination as a dynamic interplay of hierarchies jarred loose and thrown into uncomfortable relief both at home and in the colonial scene. Her astute attention to the inextricability of sexual performance and racial performance allows her to see the interconnections between the most macropolitical movements of empire and industry and the most micropolitical contestations within the domestic and "feminine" spheres of home, hygiene and heterosexual, yet perverse, desire.

In the below excerpt, she uses the multivocality of the material she treats to question and expand upon one of the most overworked theoretical structures in academia: the fetish. Speaking to both Freud and Marx (and reaching past them to the anthropological work they both borrow from), she sets up what will become a fascinating excursion into the marketing of soap in the early 1800s in the following chapter, decentering the phallus from its customary place as the explanatory anchor of meaning within a fetishistic structure of disavowal and desire in order to allow an account of white female commodity (as well as just plain-ole sexual) fetishism to emerge from this colonial moment. So doing, she accomplishes what I think is the most important thing an academic endeavor can do: it makes everything seem theorizable, seem relevant and worthy of consideration. Her work provides an opening that renders more possible than previously, expands the territory of the thinkable and therefore, in a way remarkably rare within academia, actually earns the overused appellation "theorist."

Fetishes may not always be disruptive or transgressive and can be mobilized for a variety of political ends—some progressive, some subversive, some deeply reactionary. No one understood the seductive power of fetish spectacle better than Hitler. The male Victorian middle class was not prevented by its fondness for flagellatory rituals from violently foreclosing the fetish rituals of other cultures. Fetishes such as the pink triangle can be deployed for divergent political ends, some less undecidable than others. Rather than marshalling these differences under the reductive sign of the phallus, we might do better to open them to different genealogies.

Although the fetish is a compromise object, it does not necessarily embody only two options. Fetishes can involve triangulated contradictions, or more than three. Different patterns of consumption or forms of violent political closure may effectively contain the disruptive or undecidable power of the fetish. White male fetishes can resonate differently from illicit black or female fetishes. Considerable theoretical rigor and subtlety are lost if all fetishes are reduced to the magisterial phallus: oral fetishes such as the pacifiers used by men in "babyist" fetishism; breast fetishes such as nipple-clips or fetish bras; imperial fetishes such as slave-bands and whips; leather and rubber fetishes; national fetishes such as flags, team colors and sport mascots; political fetishes such as crowns and coats of arms; religious fetishes such as crucifixes and holy water; authority fetishes such as uniforms and handcuffs.

Instead of gathering these multifarious fetishes into a single primal scene, we might do better to open the genealogies of fetishism to more theoretically subtle and historically fruitful accounts. The fetishes of other cultures might then no longer have to genuflect to the master narrative of the western family romance. Since fetishes involve the displacement of a host of social contradictions onto impassioned objects, they defy reduction to a single originary trauma or the psychopathology fo the individual subject. Indeed, fetishism might become the theoretical scene of a renewed investigation into the vexed relations between imperialism and domesticity, desire and commodity fetishism, psychoanalysis and social history—if only because the fetish itself embodies the failure of a single narrative of origins.

This excerpt taken from pages 202-203 of Imperial Leather (Routledge, 1995)


The Sarah Palin Debate Flow Chart

Sometimes, it's wise just to re-post the things one lingers on, chuckling ruefully, rather than try to add to it. This is one of those times.



Self-Indulgent Poetry Post!

Hello, reader(s?)! Yes, I've been "busy," but I got an urge yesterday to write some poetry, which I haven't done since my undergraduate years, and what with That Palin Woman crowing about her possibly mythical "gay friend" and being personally oppressed by the least debated/talked-about aspect of the lack of parity between marriage and domestic partnership (the lack of recognition of gay relationships for the purposes of immigration), and then Richard Lawson (aka: LolCait) of Gawker fame writes this devastatingly lyrical and beautiful personal recollection that also serves as a necessary, stinging indictment of the so-called tolerance the Palins of the world think they're spreading through the use of the word "choice" to couch their rhetoric of marginalization and condescension - well, I decided: it's time to write really embarassing poetry and put it on my blog. After all, what else is it here for?

Fibered Optics

Invisible: the border
between our faces shimmers,
liquid, crystalline as air,
as a drop of rain, pendulant,
quivering, suspended from
barbed wire.

Glassy, gilded,
guilt encrusts every
word as we attempt to
simulate the nearness every
word disproves as it travels
through fibers optic like
telescopes, like
microscopes, like
eyes, scaled and artificial:
you and I measured,
a scale of ones and
zeros, maximizable,
minimizable, but always
scaled down.

Eros: it makes my body
ache everywhere your hands
don’t touch, an inverted
sore, a scrambled
rose: it’s the softest part
that makes me bleed.


As If Letting Him In On A Secret

...when the photographer says [Tilda] looks a bit too much like a boy in one of the pictures, several hours into the shoot, she leans in and, as if letting him in on a secret, stage whispers: “That's kind of who I am.”


One day, I will write something else for this wasteland-like blog, but for now, just bask in the wisdom of Tilda Swinton.


Daedulus's Daughters: Caracole and Emily and Me and You And Everyone We Know

Sometimes Mateo wondered if he and his friends were malicious because they’d inherited all the intellectual pretensions of their parents and none of their scope. After all, when the capital had been rich and powerful, the ideas (even the whims) of its nobles had caused things to happen. Now they all took stands—but they were standing on air. Their impotence made them irritable.
This quote is from Edmund White’s 1986 novel Caracole, a beautifully rendered novel set in a mythical, conquered country that, as the back cover blurb helpfully informs us, is meant to be “reminiscent of Paris under the Nazis or Venice under the Austrians or Rio under the Portuguese.” The title page furthers this referential refraction by highlighting the multivalent meaning of the word “caracole”: “caper” in English, “prance” in French, “snail” in Spanish. But even to a casual reader (like me) of White’s other, more straightforwardly autobiographical books, it becomes obvious that more than a treatise on any of the specific milieux that inform the creation of this imagined community, Caracole reads as a cunning dissection of the New York intellectual scene White himself is writing from within. The removal of specificity allows him to blend, reconfigure, and distill the personalities within this scene in a way that transforms them into mythical figures, much in the same way that his deliberately imperfect composite of Rio, Paris, and Venice transforms into a setting that resonates beyond the specificities of those cities, evoking, for example, the international semicolony of late 1920s Shanghai or the ambiguous legacy of Japanese colonial rule in Taiwan.

By the time I reached the passage quoted above, I realized that I was finding the novel particularly compelling because it was beginning to read as an acute dissection not of a late 1980s New York of which I had only the vaguest conception or colonial situations I’d only contemplated in academia, but of the communities forming via the internet at sites like Gawker where I was spending a perhaps ill-advisedly large portion of my free time. This feeling only amplified as, shortly after completing Caracole, I found myself reading along as these communities erupted into a cacophony of indignation and invective over former Gawker editor Emily Gould’s account of the messy intersections between her career and her love life, which was published as a cover story in New York Times Magazine. Exhausted by attempting to find my own words to convey my complicated feelings regarding this article, I found myself quoting the passage above in a comment thread otherwise devoted to excoriating Emily’s duplicity, malice, narcissism, and bald-faced fame-seeking. I felt it gave perspective on the compulsion to write comment after comment either asserting her apparent inelegance and insipidity or defending her against these charges, a compulsion that I found myself unable to stifle as well. Why did I feel the need to participate in this public debate about the indelicacy and possible immorality of the actions of someone I never knew and likely never would? Who did I think I was? Who did the other commenters think they were? And who did we think Emily was?

is written in a studiously ornate third person that examines in extraordinary detail the complicated and shifting psychologies of each of its main characters as they negotiate the fraught terrain of their contentious, petty, and tumultuous world. Like the debate over Emily’s article, these negotiations are conducted primarily through the dissection of personal relationships: love affairs and friendships, rivalries and shifting alliances, spats and make-ups. But what becomes clear in both cases is that the compelling aspects of this dissection lie not in the salacious details so revealed but in the way that parsing these relationships becomes a parsing of a world where the frivolous, all-too-human micropolitics of the love affair and the bon mot intersect directly with the violent, inhuman macropolitics of empire and class warfare.
It seems counterintuitive at first to think that a book like Caracole, conceived and published before the rise and normalization of internet-facilitated community formation and set in a even older composite milieu, would provide any insight into a situation so inextricably bound up in the webs-within-webs that make up contemporary internet culture. And yet, the layers of abstraction that transport the characters and setting into the realm of myth also allow them to resonate with the futures superceding their creation; this is how myths work, after all. And it is as a myth of discontented civilization, of leaving the animalistic, retrospectively paradisiacal world of the de facto private country life for the self-conscious, neurotically public life of the city that Caracole speaks most clearly to the dynamics of internet culture that Emily’s story and its reception exemplify so piquantly.

The novel tells the story of two young people from the hinterlands, Gabriel and Angelica, who exist in a state of unreflective grace as children scrabbling for food amid the crumbling ruins of a neglected estate before being whisked away by Gabriel’s indolent uncle Mateo to the city. Once lovers, Angelica and Gabriel are kept apart until the last ten pages of the book by Mateo, who acts as a mentor to his scrawny nephew even as he conducts an illicit affair with the beautiful, “tribal” Angelica. It takes an outbreak of civil unrest to dismantle the elaborate machinations Mateo sets up to keep his two charges apart, a violent disintegration that leads them to fulfill their names’ implied promise that they’d become avenging angels of revolution. But it seems equally important that the final transformation is facilitated by an act of violence stemming not from the grand historical narrative of the colonized citizens revolting at last, but from the interpersonal intrigues perpetrated by Mateo and his ilk, whom he describes in the quote above as irritable with impotence.
Most of the novel involves the minute descriptions of the tiniest shifts in the emotions and psychological make-ups of members of a privileged demi-monde of intellectuals, artists and writers who make up the upper echelon of the conquered population. The prose’s style is one of piercing observation, a deliberate approximation of the modulated hypersensitivity of Proust or Gide, despite the third person. The reader is privy to every self-delusion, hypocrisy, and Machiavellian calculation the main characters undertake, and tracing these interior contours constitutes the primary “action” of the story, which saves major plot advancement for the opening section and the short, violent final one. The process of civilization Gabriel and Angelica go through is a coming into self-consciousness, a learning of a language that clings to the skin of experience, at once alienating and enlightening. Angelica reflects upon this process as she reunites, at long last, with Gabriel near the novel’s end:
Angelica loved Gabriel. He was her husband. This “love” they talked so much about, as real and invisible as “art” or “happiness” or “work,” now seemed so full and present within her that she looked and looked into Gabriel’s eyes—did he feel it too? Surely anything so strong must be shared. She couldn't be hearing so much love unless he was saying at least some of it to her. She reworked their past so that every tough, animal grappling followed by aversion now seemed to have prefigured love and the promise of happiness. What had been all silence and shame now became talk, the eloquence of love.
This passage is typical of the prose filling the entire book: emotions are felt and analyzed simultaneously, the two processes inseparable and coterminous. Further, the third person narrator grants the reader access not only to the innermost workings of each character’s mind, but to insights that exceed these characters’ self-knowledge. The reader glides effortlessly with the narrator from mind to mind, each incident played and replayed from different perspectives and parsed accordingly, in effect giving the reader a kaleidoscopic view into this world in the sense that a kaleidoscope presents a new, differently refracted image with every turn even when it is pointed consistently at the same object. The eventfulness of the novel consists mostly of scenes of frivolous sociality: openings, poetry readings, dinner parties, masked balls. These events provide the venues for the micropolitics of power that govern private personhood — love affairs, friendships, petty revenges — to gain a larger force through the segmented publicity of this privileged yet powerless class of intellectuals, actresses, and bon vivants. Moments of indiscretion are relayed and revisited from several points of view as the third-person narrator guides the reader from mind to mind, and this layering and the constant cogitation and analysis it forces the reader to engage in defines the public sphere the characters live within, one that resembles less a sphere than the chambers of a mollusk’s shell. Like Daedulus’s seeing-eye ant, the reader travels perpetually forward through White’s prose only to discover that the road forward folds inexorably back on itself; unlike the ant, though, the reader is provided no exit out of these delicate, endlessly involuting chambers filled with caprice, just scene after scene of apparently inconsequential action that reflects through bohemian indolence the perpetual carnival of the lower classes of the conquered.

Until the shell itself breaks. Fighting in the streets foreshadows the dissolution of this hermetically sealed world, but the true end occurs during yet another masked ball. A culmination of cogitation and tiny slights, one character shoots and kills another whom she perceived to be a romantic rival for Gabriel’s attentions. The reader has been informed, of course, that this perception is at least partly a delusion, but it hardly matters — the true dynamics are, of course, as endlessly complicated as every interpersonal dynamic has been shown to be in the novel, but these complications are rendered effectively moot by the finality of the action they nonetheless propel, and the revolutionary spark that action provides. The particulars of the action are quickly reconfigured for maximum revolutionary purpose, the true killer whisked away and a woman from the conquering class framed — a consequence of she and the killer showing up at the ball in the same dress, which itself is the result of yet another complexly motivated attempt at humiliation that ironically ends up saving the woman it was engineered to embarrass. As witnesses to and perpetrators of this deception, the newly reunited Gabriel and Angelica find themselves suddenly positioned to be the symbolic standardbearers for this long-delayed revolution, itself the culmination and dissolution of the coming into civilization the entire book portrays.

Contemporary internet culture is frequently spoken of as a system of interwoven webs, a metaphor that seems to function similarly to Caracole’s segmented shell. And like this shell, it seems to be a series of interlocking scenes of little inherent consequence that are nonetheless worried over in a series of endless cogitations as blog after blog, commenter after commenter, decides to “weigh in” on whatever event has been caught in the webs of publicity that brought it to his or her attention. There is an odd leveling that takes place in clearinghouses of such events such as Gawker, which is less a blog than a venue that reduces/raises everything it publishes to the status of the events that take place at the masked balls and dinner parties of Caracole. News of Ted Kennedy getting diagnosed with cancer is given the same level of attention as Emily Brill comparing cancer to excess weight; a photo of Julia Allison pursing her lips at a party is considered and reconsidered as endlessly as a Presidential campaign speech. There is a dividend of frustration with this that becomes apparent whenever a comment thread turns serious — a frustration that mirrors precisely that described by Mateo in the opening quotation. It is a frustration of people given just enough power to feel their own essential impotence. On the internet, we are transformed instantly into a demimonde, our every word public yet mostly inconsequential, every speech act a moment of potential reckoning that can ruin or exalt the speaker within this world of pure rhetoric at the same time as it remains for the most part invisible outside it. We want to change the world through our words but are terrified at the possibility that it may actually happen, since the motivation behind these words are the product of the fluid eternal present of constantly updated content and the shifting ground of off-the-cuff conversation that accompany each new post.

In a follow-up feature wherein she answered a select few of the mostly antagonistic questions volleyed at her in the comment section accompanying her article’s online incarnation, Emily writes that she is reading The Future of Reputation, a book she claims is helping her think about the redefinitions of public and private that the internet is catalyzing and that her own story illuminates as a kind of wounded and wounding parable. Ironically, a commenter on her personal site revealed just before the publication of her article that s/he saw Emily reading this book on the subway, a comment that neatly inverted the dynamics of the gaze that Emily herself defended during a television appearance conducted while still at Gawker that focused on the aspect of the website that she had the least to do with directly: the “Gawker Stalker” map that allows readers to submit sightings of celebrities in and around New York. As Emily writes in her article, it was this appearance that launched her into precisely the sort of visibility that rendered her a target of this feature herself, a visibility that continued even after she quit Gawker, as the comment on her personal site demonstrated (and which will inevitably amplify again in the wake of the New York Times Magazine cover), and which forces her to confront on a personal level the redefinition of public and private the book she was seen reading itself examines.

Emily’s conundrum exemplifies a central paradox of contemporary internet culture, the simultaneous insularity and permeability of its eventfulness. We are all initiates in one way or another, all able to learn how to participate in this eternal present tense and let its language civilize and alienate us, render us sophisticated and indolently clever, able to footnote and link and refer and allude and analyze in a series of public speech acts that in themselves both create chambers to stage new scenes and link them to others: every new blog, every new comment, every new profile represents both a new wall and a new doorway, a new more or less permeable membrane. As readers, commenters, participants in social software, writers, and bloggers, we are constantly negotiating a world defined almost entirely by modulations in the publicity of the words we write on this internet. All internet writing is public. Yet learning what this means involves a constant confrontation with the vicissitudes of power within a privileged demimonde frustrated at the prospect of only being able to change the world by supporting and promoting each other’s fame. There are grander, exponentially direr things that deserve the attention Emily receives for being a particularly articulate participant in this process, and so when she attains the fame and rewards that accrue to her for doing essentially a version of what any of us theoretically could do, she becomes a convenient scapegoat for the frustrations inherent in realizing that we really cannot do much more. Elections, genocides, human rights abuses, wars, careers – these things too are affected by the chatter within the rooms of little consequence that make up the internet, and yet the process by which this happens seems inescapably accidental and capricious. It is easy to trace how Emily became a celebrity within a few of the linked chambers in the internet through her sparkling conversation and manipulation of persona, but it seems impossible to trace, for example, why Obama will never stop being linked to a Muslimism he’s repeatedly disavowed and which commenters, bloggers and journalists have spent so much time asserting his distance from. Like the end of Caracole, the chain of events that lead to this or that instance of essentially impotent yet incessant public speech to suddenly accrue real power is so divorced from any one person’s control that a kind of hyper-articulated hum of worldly frustration permeates the atmosphere online, reflecting in microcosm a larger, increasingly decentralized geopolitical field of power that nonetheless features an increasingly centralized conglomerate of governmental and corporate interests as its major players. All we can really hope for is that one of our random shots in the dark will strike lucky and pierce this complacent shell once and for all, and we can find our exit, and a different version of ourselves, in the revolutions this shattering precipitates. We’re all angels of revolution in this sense, but it is not within our control how or when or whether we’ll ever get our wings. So we mope and bitch and whine and make jokes, then analyze these utterances endlessly as we wait and see how it all ends.


Bell-Cricket Body Positions Through Being Tokyo Female

So there's this site called Wordle that turns whatever document you feed into it into an artsy, tastefully colored word cloud featuring its most commonly used words. So I fed the article I wrote about the proletarian woman writer Nakamoto Takako into it for fun:

I think it turned out pretty cool! I particularly like the way it put "writer" and "play" inside "body." That's basically a rebus of the article's thesis.


Fathers, Sons, Holy Ghosts

This post is in response to a friend who asked about the portrayal of father/son relationships in Japanese literature and specifically what I thoguht about Oe Kenzaburo in this regard. Here is my dashed-off response:

One thing I think is important specifically to Japan regarding the representation of father/son synamics is the role of the Emperor, especially after the 1868 “Restoration” of him into symbolic status as a kind of “father" of Japan (and link to the Sun goddess) as a part of creating the nation state and legitimizing the displacement of the Shogunate. This was when the idea of novels and literature in the explicitly Western sense took hold, and classics from the classical Imperial court were popularized and used as a basis for “Japanese” literary aesthetics.

The Tale of Genji thus became canonized as the “first” novel of Japan (and, by some estimations, the world!); it is a story of succession, parentage, and legitimate vs. illegitimate rule. A father-Emperor commits the indiscretion of loving the wrong mistress too much and produces a shining (that’s part of his name-“Hikaru”) son who should be next in line due to his idealized qualities but who isn’t. Genji’s mom dies and the Emperor loves Genji explicitly as a replacement/memento of her, but makes him a commoner because a Korean seer predicted that a Genji-as-Emperor would plunge Japan into chaos; Genji embarks on a series of love affairs in and around the court with women who remind him of his dead mother, until he gets a mistress of his father’s pregnant and the son becomes Emperor himself. Another affair leads to his self-imposed, though temporary, exile. His true successor in the narrative is a son who is not a son but the product of an affair of one of his own wives; this is phrased as a type of karmic return, since his own father is being succeeded by a son who is Genji's. This "son" is named Kaoru, ("Scent") as opposed to Hikaru ("Light"), and is a pale reflection of his "father" as he somewhat aimlessly emulates his romantic conquests after Genji's death in the final, unfinished sections of the Tale.

The incestuous overtones of this have not been ignored by the modern Japanese literary canon, and Tanizaki, for one, makes the implied mother/son incest of Genji into a recurring theme (one story, named for a chapter in the Genji, involves the protagonist peeping on a stepmother who resembles his dead real mother so much he cannot differentiate between them as she pumps her breasts into a glass; upon discovery, she offers him a glassful). The idea of a too-intimate relationship between Japanese mothers and their sons (and anxiety about the sons’ resultant “weakness” and “infantilism”) has become a cliché of not only literature but social theory/anthropology, most famously Takeo Doi’s Anatomy of Dependence. Women writers with a feminist slant have a tendency to exalt in portrayals of abusive mothering as a way to subvert the coercive demand at the heart of this cliché (Kono Taeko’s “Toddler-hunting” is a good/extreme example of this; a less overt but no less unsettling one is Ogawa Yoko’s “Pregnancy Diary,” which was translated in the New Yorker.

Fathers, on the other hand, are treated as a political problem more often than not, as ways of dealing with the implications of imperial power and succession in the context of modernity and the traumas of history. For example, Natsume Soseki’s hyper-canonical Kokoro (1914) is narrated by a callow college student who scorns his real father’s provincialism and idolizes a substitute father named “Sensei” [teacher] who is depressive and guilt-ridden over a crime he committed in the past that is implied to be associated with money and selfishness, indicators that he is betraying“traditional" values by being too caught up in the present – his tragedy is his living fully in neither, existing instead in a space (and a marriage – the crime was committed for the hand of a woman) defined by the betrayal itself. The story takes place as the first modern Emperor, Meiji, dies; the protagonist’s ailing father reads the news of one of Meiji’s most loyal and famous subjects, General Nogi, has killed himself (and his wife, of course) out of loyalty and his own condition becomes significantly worse in sympathy. At his father's bedside, the protagonist receives a letter from Sensei that is actually a suicide note, explaining the past crimes that feed his depression. The protagonist leaves his ailing father and reads the lengthy note on the train he takes to go back to Sensei (the note takes up a third of the book and is its last chapter). The novel ends with him on the train, reading, and neither his father’s or Sensei’s death is ultimately certain.

The father/son dynamic is defined as the transmission of the burden of history, both in the grand and personal senses of the term. As Sensei begins his note to the protagonist:

In the end, you asked me to spread my past like a picture scroll before your eyes. Then, for the first time, I respected you. I was moved by your decision, albeit discourteous in expression, to grasp something that was alive within my soul. You wished to cut open my heart and see the blood flow. I was then still alive. I did not want to die. That is why I refused you and postponed the granting of your wish to another day. Now, I myself am about to cut open my own heart, and drench your face with my blood. And I shall be satisfied if, when my heart stops beating, a new life lodges itself in your breast.

I read Oe in relation to this, but it is important to factor in the complicated role of Emperors and fathers who have been shown to be culpable, human, even criminal in the context of WWII’s aftermath. Young male Japanese writers like Oe see themselves as sons splashed with tainted blood from diseased hearts, and their literature is full of self-loathing young men finding themselves confronting fathers who seem like liars or worse as they spout new propaganda received from the occupying American presence, words that diametrical oppose what was said by the same fathers and Emperors during wartime. Everything is ugly, deformed, all-too-corporeal, haunted by the shining Emperors and shining Genjis the fascist imperial state promised even as the current Emperor declares himself a human, his war a mistake; how can any son of his shine? Oe’s early fictions, like “Seventeen,” explore this conundrum with bracing, graphic, and deliberately disgusting verve. Eventually, Oe’s humanism seems to finds its basis in the space that opens up between the abject reality and shining ideals of being this kind of boy, this kind of son; there are no easy answers, but facing the truth of the situation becomes an ethical act.

And when he does grow up, he produces a son of his own, and it is a moment of trauma, a “personal matter” that throws this political conundrum into unbearable relief. His developmentally disabled son seems to alternate for him between being yet another symbol of his own compromised flesh with its brutish desires and inability to articulate (remember all the animal imagery?) and being a symbol of a hope, a way out, an alternative to the competing rhetorics of fleshy realism and ruthless, shining, fascist beauty. His son, after all, is bad at talking but good at music, as it turns out. Maybe what Japan needs is a way out of language itself; after all, Japanese is, mythologically, a possession of the Emperor.

As Oe has gotten older, this understanding of his son has become increasingly sentimentalized even as his humanistic rhetoric has become more hackneyed and his fiction has become riddled with repetitive and disturbing invocations of a shining, youthful male savior (named Gii in Somersault) whose strength will save Japan from the weakness and abjection of its adults through becoming a “myth,” a “New Man.” I feel this as a betrayal of sorts of the fearlessness of his earlier work, and of A Personal Matter itself. It's almost cartoonishly grotesque that the abstract, historical, and inevitable counterpart to his sentimentalized son would turn out to be yet another holy ghost, and one that smells an awful lot like Mishima.


Celebrating Academic Writing #1: "White Glasses"

Academic writing gets a bad rap. Convoluted, gangly, jargon-larded, empty, pretentious -- there are myriad examples of how the weird world of academia has produced a culture of writing that shows all too clearly the costs of driving generation after generation of scholars to publish or perish without giving even cursory mention of how to go about making the things they publish enjoyable, or even readable in the most basic sense. It is seen as at best indecorous to criticize a paper for inelegance -- as long as it is technically grammatically correct, the criticism should focus on whether it is "correct," whether it is "cohesive," "organized." There is no room for a consideration of beauty, even in literary and cultural studies; sometimes the articles and books I read come off as even jealous or spiteful in relation to the beauty of their objects, ripping them apart and paraphrasing them in the dullest fashion as if actively trying to drain the language of any power beyond that by which the academics themselves are routinely judged — is it cohesive? Organized? Correct?

What is saddening about this situation isn't just that the writing produced by many of the people who care about writing the most is becoming less and less pleasurable to read, but also that there is precious little opportunity to acknowledge when an essay or article or book produced within academia is, indeed, beautiful. The fact is, despite all the factors working against it and despite the generally bad reputation academic writing has even amongst academics, academic writing can achieve a kind of bracing, stirring beauty all its own. So, I feel that the least I can do is share some of my favorite moments in academic writing in a little weekly-or-so feature on this little blog, pieces that have stuck with me both for their insight and their sheer beauty, and which humble and inspire me as I attempt to do right by them in my own attempts at academic authorship.

To kick off this celebration, I have chosen an excerpt from one of my favorite articles by one of my favorite academic authors of all time, "White Glasses," by Eve Sedgwick, which she wrote about her colleague, Michael Lynch, who was dying of AIDS at the time she was writing and who was also something of a fashion icon to Eve with his snazzy white glasses. It is proof to me of the importance of allowing emotion and intellectual precision to inform one another, as opposed to working constantly to keep them apart; I miss the anger of this period of queer theory, and the unapologetic passion that vivified its rigor and prevented it from curdling into mortis.

One thing I learned…is that the white of the glasses means differently for a woman, for a man. The white of the glasses is two things, after all. White is a color—it is a pastel. White the pastel sinks banally and invisibly into the camouflage of femininity, on a woman, a white woman. In a place where it doesn’t belong, on Michael, that same pastel remains a flaming signifier.

White is also, however, at the same time no color, the color of color’s own subtraction and absence. At once the white-flaring acid of dissolution, the acid’s crystalline residue and its voided trail, in many cultures white is the color of mourning. On women of all colors white refers, again banally, to virginity (to virginity as absence or to the absence of virginity) and the flirtations of the veil—to ways in which our gender tries to construct us heterosexually as absence and as the dissimulating denial of it, and tries also to inscribe in us, as a standard of our own and other people’s value, the zero-degree no-color of (not the skin of Europeans themselves but) the abstractive ideology of European domination. A white woman wearing white: the ruly orderliness of this sight makes invisible the corrosive aggression that white also is: as the blaze of mourning, the opacity of loss, the opacity loss installs within ourselves and our vision, the unreconciled and irreconcilably incendiary energies streaming through that subtractive gap, that ragged scar of meaning, regard, address.
The entirety of this essay can be found, along with many other gems, in her collection Tendencies (1993)


ALL BODIES ARE MUTILATED / It's enough that I am collecting what I love

Inspired by the Fiction Prompt over at Koreanish, I have conducted my own water-witching expedition amongst my books and found seven passages that, as will likely inevitably happen, ended up flowing together into a strange yet cohesive meditation. In this case, one pondering violence and artistry, blood and bloodlessness, girls in trouble and men choking on self-loathing. None of this is really all that surprising. A lot of it is more beautiful than I remembered.

Even among those recognized as masters there are perceptible differences of accomplishment, though at a level so high that comparisons tend to take the form of arguments concerning the nature of beauty. Yet it may happen that one master stands out from the others by virtue of some scarcely to be defined yet immediately apparent quality, as our history demonstrates again and again; and as is the case at present, in the disquieting instance of Heinrich Graum.

For it is indeed of him I wish to speak, this troubled spirit who has risen up in our midst with his perilous and disturbing gift; and if I have seemed to hesitate, to linger over other matters, it is because the very nature of his art throws all into question and requires one to approach him obliquely, almost warily.

Steven Millhauser, “The New Automaton Theatre,” in
The Knife Thrower and Other Stories

I can’t feel anything she said. You could see the ghost of bone beneath all the dripping red. What if I ruined her finger? What if she couldn’t ever use it again? She’d break up with me, she icily informed me. I Didn’t Do It On Purpose! I was crying and she was telling me to shut up. She had no patience. She wasn’t crying. Two coyotes crossed the road and we almost ran them over. They were tan like the dry ground, they looked just like dogs, with soft bits of tongue slipping out of their mouths.

Michelle Tea, The Passionate Mistakes and Intricate Corruption
of One Girl in America

To employ once again Nenami’s favorite metaphor, the ticket gate is like the gate of the enormous prison of society. The men, convicts serving a life sentence of penal servitude, come through the gate and, together with the invalids who have come to meet them, return home to their isolation wards. These, however, were two wives who dreaded their husbands’ release from prison. Each time the train pulled in, they felt a cold shiver of fear in their hearts. Whose husband would arrive first?

Kawabata Yasunari, “The Rainy Station,” in
Palm-of-the-Hand Stories
Lane Dunlop, trans.

“You know, what’s so dreadful about dying is that you are completely on your own”; and it struck me, as my automaton knees went up and down, that I simply did not know a thing about my darling’s mind and that quite possibly, behind the awful juvenile clichés, there was in her a garden and a twilight, and a palace gate—dim and adorable regions which happened to be lucidly and absolutely forbidden to me, in my polluted rags and miserable convulsions; for I often noticed that living as we did, she and I, in a world of total evil, we would become strangely embarrassed whenever I tried to discuss something she and an older friend, she and a parent, she and a real healthy sweetheart, I and Annabel, Lolita and a sublime, purified, deified Harold Haze, might have discussed—an abstract idea, a painting, stippled Hopkins or shorn Baudelaire, God or Shakespeare, anything of a genuine kind. Good will! She would mail her vulnerability in trite brashness and boredom, whereas I, using for my desperately detached comments an artificial tone of voice that set my own last teeth on edge, provoked my audience to such outbursts of rudeness as made any further conversation impossible, oh my poor, bruised child.

Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita






Bush’s mind: The Cardinal’s exit should have scared Bush but only served to reify this man’s conviction that enemies were living all around him. Now, these enemies included both his own family, as he had known before, and the Pope. Bush had always recognized that his sons wanted, through inheritance, to take away the money he was earning in his presidency. I, said Bush, must preserve the economy.

As he was thinking, a young novice entered the black-hung chamber.

“Tell my daughter that I want to see her at midnight, when all the light has failed.”


(Pictures of a man, not recognizable, extracting a dead girl’s eye, then cutting off her left leg.)



Kathy Acker, My Mother: Demonology, A Novel

With ordinary treasures, what counts is the power to get them; with relics of the past, what counts is the collector's taste and his wholehearted love of them. But even compiling a catalogue does not quite set to rest Ouyang Xiu's anxieties about the future of his collection. He consoles himself in a fabricated dialogue:
Someone mocked me saying: “If a collection is large, then it will be hard to keep intact. After being assembled for a long time, it is bound to be scattered. Why are you bothering to be so painstaking?”

I replied: “It's enough that I am collecting what I love and that I will enjoy growing old among them.”

Judith Zeitlin, Historian of the Strange: Pu Songling and the
Chinese Classical Tale



Hearts on Fire / Cut Copy

Here is my summer jam for 08. I recently saw them live (merci, C-Dawg!) and they completely won over both me and The Moroccan, along with hordes of jumping Québécois. They're like having prime-of-their-career NewOrder back again, making new music. Also, the video is cute, and has the first use of a growing puppy to denote passing time I've seen. Puppies are the new cigarettes!

Apartment 3-G Fan Fiction

Part of the reason why I decided to belatedly hop onto the weblogwagon like this is to heal a schism I inadvertently created when I chose to post under two different handles in my interwebventures. At Josh Fruhlinger's wonderful Comics Curmudgeon site, I created a persona under a name specific to the comics world and have posted more disquisitions, attempted witticisms, and, yes, forays into fan fiction there than I care to admit to even myself.

I personally prefer the Japanese term for works of this kind,
yaoi, because of its etymology as an abbreviation for yama-nashi, ochi-nashi, imi-nashi, or no climax, no payoff, no meaning. And indeed, I like to think of these fictions as snapshots or portions of invisible, parallel stories that array around an original work every time it is read. Another way to think of them, I suppose, is as slashes cut into the seamless surface of the text, openings that paradoxically provide possibilities for suturing together characters the text's uncut surface holds apart.

It therefore seems appropriate that these stories in both Japan and elsewhere so often take the form of dramatizations of homosexual desire, their essential meaninglessness as independent works attesting to their status as instantiations of what Judith Butler has termed the "non-narrativizable" desire produced as an effect of the necessary disavowals that prop up heteronormative romance.

But enough chit-chat. Below is a supplemental wound I cut into Apartment 3-G, a meaningless snapshot of the invisible romance between two tertiary characters, Lu Ann's drug-addicted boyfriend, Alan, and Margo's harried assistant, Sam. Enjoy.

Big Dog

Sam looked up. It was eight o’clock already. Where was he? He’d said he’d be back from the gallery by six, and now look: the paella was well past cold and had congealed into something resembling the yellow goo Alan once joked that Lu Ann’s head must be filled with that time he tried to make pineapple upside-down cake and ended up cooking it on preheat. The idea that the cloud of lemony fiberglass filaments encircling Lu Ann’s addled noggin sprouted out of a grainy, gelatinous mass and slid through a series of tiny holes in her skull brought a chuckle to Sam’s lips now just as it had then, but this time it was followed by a vexed sigh. Where was he?

A rattling at the door announced the answer. Alan seemed to be playing with the key in the lock like he sometimes did, getting lost in the metallic music of the latch’s inner workings: click click click! Sam walked over and relieved the door from being worried like a chew toy. Alan looked up from the key in his hand with a beguilingly guileless grin plastered across his face. “You changed your ha-ir,” he drawled, his other hand reaching up to touch it. Sam ducked out of his reach.

“You know it was Margo’s idea. I told you when she made me.”
“But I didn’t think you’d actually do it!”
“She said she wanted an assistant that represented the brand.”
“And what Marmaduke wants, Marmaduke gets.”
Sam had to smile at that. “She is the Big Dog.”
“You should have heard her at the gallery today with Eric. It was less Marmaduke, more Marmite.”
“Marmite? That’s a new one.”
“You know what they say about Marmite.”
“Only Brits like it?”
Alan pawed idly at the paella, his eyes slightly unfocused and a smile still curling the corners of his mouth. “Mmm-hmm.”
“I didn’t know Eric was British.”
“He’s not.”
“Is anyone Margo knows from England?”
Alan looked up at Sam. “No.”
Sam laughed, then gestured at the paella. “You’re too late for that, you know. Once it goes, it goes.”
“That’s okay, I’m not hungry.”
“You ate already? I told you I’d be making this for you!”
The smile smudging Alan’s features finally disappeared, and he walked over to cradle Sam’s newly blackened head in his hands, “No, babe, I’m just not hungry. I promise I’ll make it up to you.”
Sam leaned into Alan’s palm but kept his gaze steady on Alan. “What did you tell Lu Ann?”
Alan snorted. “That I’d be working on my own paintings tonight. Not that it matters, she’ll just forget.”
“It’s not easy using a goldfish as a beard.”
Alan shuddered theatrically. “Clammy. And it keeps slipping off.”
“Well, just make sure Tommie believes it. Did she hear you?”
“I think so. It’s hard to tell where she is, even when she’s right beside you.”
Now it was Sam’s turn for theatrics. “Oh my God, is she here right now?” he squealed, peering under the kitchen table.
“Dude, you know no matter where you look, you’ll always end up finding her in the closet.”
Chuckling, Sam straightened up and drew Alan into his arms. “I missed you.”
“You just saw me on Monday, mushmouth.”
“I mean…before. You were gone too long.”
Something shifted behind Alan’s features, like fingers brushing across his face from the inside. “I was fucked up. I told you before. You wouldn’t have wanted to be with me then.”
“I know. I just…”
“Besides, you were with that cowboy asshole…”
“Hey, Blaze is a nice guy!”
Alan pulled away from Sam and headed into the bedroom, calling over his shoulder, “So why aren’t you still with him?”
“Nice only goes so far.”
Alan turned, grinning, “Somebody’s been hanging around too much with a certain Big Dog, it sounds like.”

Sam started barking, and ran into the bedroom to tackle Alan, pinning him down on the bed. Alan twisted his body beneath him, as if convulsing. A sudden mental picture of Lu Ann’s body, sprawled across the studio floor and haloed in blood, just as Alan had described it to him, sprang unbidden to his mind. Sam shook his head to clear it, still pretending to be a Big Dog. It was supposed to have been a quiet exit for her, a final step into the dreamland where she already seemed to live half her life – that’s why he’d told Blaze the studio had passed the inspection, that’s why he’d planted the seed in Alan’s head to let her use it. He hadn’t counted on Alan coming back so soon, or him discovering her….

Well, we all have our secrets, he reflected as he unbuttoned Alan’s dress shirt and pretended not to notice the little bloodstain on the inner part of the left sleeve. Sam decided not to ask whether Alan had asked for the advance yet, or what happened to last month’s paycheck. He decided to be the Big Dog for now, and just enjoy what bones came his way. Sam growled as he unbuttoned Alan’s fly.

Sweet Dreams

Inaugurations demand ceremonies. What better way to begin this foolish endeavor than to submit to "posterity" the story I wrote during a commenter-run "short-burst" literary contest that took place in a now-deleted secret room within the Gawker empire? The final lines were presented by instigator AndSheSaid as bait inspiration.

Sweet Dreams

The slow song's fading chords melted into the night like caramel into coffee, as did our dancing: our arms dropped slowly to our sides and our heads swiveled in unison to focus on the flower-festooned mic stand where there now stood a man with a balaclava pulled over his head that punctuated his white tuxedo like a period on a page. His bowtie was green as a mint.

We all knew what was coming, yet it still felt like a surprise when it did. This meniscus between the preamble and the wedding party was where the power of the ceremony coiled, still and quivering, waiting for the rush of descent. The eyes of the tuxedoed man surveyed the crowd as if from a haunted portrait, rimmed by margins of flesh that shone a ghastly white against the edges of the balaclava's eyeholes. No one dared to meet their lighthouse stare, except the bride, who picked absently at her corsage; she could afford her nonchalance, as she and her pale groom were the only ones who were safe, at least tonight.

It was on their third pass that the roving eyes of the man at the mic stand finally stopped, snagging on a little boy who tried, unsuccessfully as it turned out, to hide behind his mother's spangled skirt. The sound of the man clearing his throat into the mic cut through the silence like the rev of a chainsaw, and the crowd flinched reflexively in unison. "That one," said the man, his voice more tired and his enunciation more casual than anyone expected, and his hand rose to point at the little boy. The mother in the spangled skirt began to weep, but silently, and she pulled her boy into a short but fierce embrace before pushing him gently toward the stage.

It was an odd sensation to relax and fill with dread simultaneously, but after a few weddings, we'd all grown used to it. As the pulley system hoisted the boy by the ankles to dangle him headfirst above the punchbowl, the creaking of the ropes mingled with the rustling of the crowd as we shifted our weight and exhaled, diffusing tension and bracing ourselves in one collective movement. Some of the more seasoned of us wondered if the tuxedoed man was getting old or lazy; this was the third child in a row he'd chosen. The faint but still audible groans emanating from beneath the balaclava as the boy jerked higher and higher told of tightened tendons, gnarled joints, seizing shoulders. Perhaps by next year, it would be a more hale and hearty frame beneath the ice cream cloth and licorice shroud; perhaps it would again be time for adults to shiver like the children did at the sound of wedding bells.

But not yet: with a practiced motion, the blade cut cleanly almost to the hinge of the boy's elfin jaw, and soon there was enough punch to go around. Chalices were passed from hand to hand, and everyone drank deep - even the mother, in her grief, partook, as if giving her son a last sweet kiss. Before long it was time for the bride and groom to receive their due and blessing, crimson crosses painted on their foreheads, a shared toast that they themselves had written.

"Sweet dreams," said the groom as he tipped the still warm fluid into his beloved's mouth.

"Are made of this," finished the bride after swallowing, holding a cup of her own to her husband's lips.

It was their song, after all.

Still, the first half of the wedding was more like a funeral. But then, as people drank more, the bride ended up dry humping the hell out of the groom as well as a few other guests, and soon she was walking around with her pants down to her knees; as always, once the ceremony was over, things got a bit more interesting.