“The raccoon penis is a reminder of his hustler times at truck stops across southern America - the pendant is a sexual talisman in the southern states…” – The Observer.
Umm. The British still don’t quite, shall we say, understand primitive peoples outside their island. But LI does like the idea that the good bourgeois in the Red States, after fixing up the raccoon stew, have just that special use for the thang bone.
While the Observer goes on to celebrate the cult genius of a writer, JT Leroy, who seems to be spooning out the usual mixture of prostitution and transvestitism – closing that infinitesimal gap between Jerry Springer and William Burroughs – LI has been reading another Stephen Wright novel, Going Native.
Stephen Wright has not had a large output: Meditations in Green, M31: A Family Romance, and Going Native across a stretch of thirty years. The first novel won the Maxwell Perkins award, the very name of which has an antique air of virtue – one imagines a mix of John O’Hara and John Cheever going off to teach creative writing, for all eternity, in Iowa. Surely one of the hells designed for writers in some religion or other.
Wright was interviewed by Contemporary Literature in 96, after Going Native came out. Here is what he says about coming back here, after serving in Vietnam:
“Q. I was struck by your comment, "It was the big event." That remark reminds me of Hemingway and Mailer.
A. I think it is still the big event. I think it explains everything going on politically, culturally, and economically. I think it's pretty pathetic, actually. I can't even think about it for too long without getting infuriated. Why did we have all these years of this Republican crap, and this whole turn to conservative nonsense, and the kind of gloom and mean-spiritedness that is pervading the country? I don't even know when it's been like this before. It comes from being pissed off. I think it starts with "We lost a war." I just feel like saying, "Let's grow up." I mean, really! I've reached a point where I think that this is in many ways a pretty gutless country. You know, Americans like to think of themselves as one of the finer examples of the human species on the planet--that we represent everything that's good and fine and true in the human character. But what I see around me is a lot of gutlessness on every level. I think what we're going through is a very bad, long, and troubled adolescence, and I think Vietnam was puberty. I just hoped it would end sooner. It doesn't even seem as though it's going to end. “
And this is what he says about writing:
Q. Tell us what you aim for in your writing.
A. I forget where Virginia Woolf says this, but it's the best explanation, something that I agree with 100 percent. She says something to the effect that the good reader reads for vision and power. And that's it. Period. It's not for politics, it's not for social mores, it's not to fulfill some thesis you're working on in your head or to justify your way of life--that's a bad reader. A good reader reads for vision and power. And vision and power is in Charles Dickens as much as it's in Samuel Beckett. The technique is irrelevant. All this stuff about considering that writing is advancing or going somewhere, and then you have to discard this and attach that--it's all nonsense.”
Is there any question as to why LI loves this writer? Later in the interview Wright makes the interesting point that he is influenced by TV and David Hume – and that seems to work. Imagine a Humean horror show, in which the horror is the disconnect between cause and effect separating characters into victims – trying desperately to knit those categories back together, or ignoring the rip altogether – and travelers – who exploit that disconnection – and you get a fair sense of Going Native and M31. Then read the final chapter in M31, when the sky lights up with ectoplasmic space ships over DC. Or read, as a piece of sheer movement, the crack chapter in Going Native. This is CD, who, with Lateisha, is the centerpiece of the chapter:
‘He had come into the room to either retrieve an object or relate something important to Lateisha, neither of which was apparent to him now; he returned to the bathroom to see if what he had lost could be found there. Then he was back, staring at the clothes at his feet and a strange pair of black briefs. Men’s. Holding the article daintily aloft between two curled fingers, he searched through the house. Latisha was nowhere to be found. In the kitchen he checked and rechecked the locks on the windows, then became absorbed in cleaning the panes with a homemade mixture of ethanol and the juice of four lemons purchased weeks ago as a preventative against scurvy. He stood at the back door for the longest time. He swept the floor. Passing through the living room, he was diverted by the black oak out there on the lawn. There was a man hiding behind the trunk. While he waited for the man to show himself again, he took his pulse. The beat seemed rapid, rapid but not excessively so, already perhaps steady and strong, certainly lacking the telltale squishy note of a perforated chamber or malfunctioning valve or clogged artery. He had to stop the smoking tomorrow. He couldn’t go on like this.”
To LI’s mind, the crack cocaine here, is almost peripheral – or, rather, operates to amplify the zoo trance in which humanoids can spend their days, in whatever cages they find themselves in, the electric work of habit laying down lines of automatism that track through every environment, under the clothes and down the arteries, the brain’s spatter of constant channel changing as one day is piled up on top of the next in aimless, wobbly piles until we dump the whole thing in a hole in the ground or burn it and put the bone splinter ashes in an urn.
Which sounds like a gloomy magic trick, and is certainly not all there is to Wright or the human condition. The vision and power are the rings of light around even such as CD. So pick up one of the guys novels and read it, will you?