Sometimes a desire will detach itself from you.
Sometimes a desire will become hard, impervious, separate,
like a ball, a calculus, a cyst, and lay in you, automatic,
wiggling its legs around like a dying bug. That is what you
feel in the nerve, that bug s movement. It makes you sweat.
You say to yourself I don t want to obey. You say to
yourself I won t obey. Your internal dialogue sounds like
the usual script, the kind of thing that goes on in the
minds of criminals and prophets, the merry band of
exhibitionists, voyeurs, addicts, beggars, sniffers, heads,
fetishists, collectors, gamblers, veterans of suicide and
moral cretins of all types. From Isaiah to Jack the Ripper,
from Rimbaud to Gary Gilmore. Archetypically it is the B-
movie mad scientist shadowed by his gibbering assistant, and
then there's always the sacred horror movie in the serial
killer's head. Not that for a second you are in that
league. But you have intimations of that mania, sometimes.
You look back at certain points in your life and shudder.
You ll have five minutes panic. Because there s nothing you
could have done about it, that bug kept wiggling its legs.
You might say why am I here when you know why, the bug had
gotten you to go, you don t want to admit it. All a big
mistake you say. Afterwards you say why do I keep doing
these things, the horror, the horror, out damned spot, when
you know about the bug good and well. The bug just keeps on
dying, spastic, in the far reaches of the enormous nerve. A
nerve like a hospital corridor.
Okay, so you ve had that feeling before, it makes your
stomach hurt, you keep walking hoping it will go away, you
get in a car and drive and try to listen to the radio
thinking that if you don t think you won t think about it,
if you drain the ocean you kill the fish. But that doesn't
work, of course, the bug is too stupid to be tricked like
that, the bug has no attention span so to speak, the bug
only has its instinct. What you want to do is step on it,
crush it, then wipe it off the bottom of your shoe, all that
compact life popped. You d like to see that little staining
spot of bug juice, death s watermark. But you can t do it.
You are that bug.
When self went off to college his choice was dictated
partly by the urge to escape, get away from Atlanta and from
his parents with adolescent angel wings, as he imagined
himself, long blondish hair and slender hips, a Blakean
outlaw, and divided elementally from the capitalist beast
around him. Dedicated to failure and failure's distance,
that most important of high school discoveries, oh yeah, his
own distance, like Billy the Kid discovering the trigger,
dedicated to whatever curse it was (hoping it was a curse, a
palpable difference) that seemed the freshet in his blood.
Most of his friends at Gladstone High were going to Athens,
which seemed cool enough, with its camp Confederate trumpery
of white columns and shady porticos, self had cruised around
the town and eaten burgers with his friends where you were
supposed to eat burgers and snuck in and had a beer where
you were supposed to sneak in and have a beer, gleefully
flashing your fake ID in that hangdog teenage way, and then
the tumultuous drive back to Atlanta, all of you drunk. Self
wanted autre pays, autre moeurs, which he thought he d get
in Austin. He’d been there, of course. He’d run away at seventeen,
in a van stolen by a friend from the friend’s father, and they’d made it
to Austin. He’d already met Julia. He’d had a vision of himself and Julia
making the scene. They’d talked on the phone, late at night, when his
parents were asleep. Mark was the one who finally turned him on to the
idea of going to Austin rather than Julia coming to Athens.
This meant a little family crisis, Dad saying why pay that
much tuition and not go to Virginia, which is where Dad
went. They even, father and son, made a trip to
Charlottesville together, self feeling very Stephen
Daedelish about Dad s trip down memory lane, even looking up
an English professor, now retired, who faked a memory of Dad
writing some paper for his class on Melville, fall of 1950.
All too much - Dad, self, this rather dirty, toothless man
standing there in his pajamas in the doorway of his house.
Hard not to notice that he hadn t buttoned his fly. Then Dad
and self visited Aunt Lane in Maryland, and then came home.
All this by car, which was a little too much post-Oedipal
time with Dad. Once they were home self said sorry.
Luckily Mark had a bundle stashed away from selling
pot, mostly, at school, so he said he d loan self tuition.
He said we ll get jobs on the side, it isn t going to be
Once they got there Dad started sending self three
hundred a month anyway.
Freedom and power - these were the dominant factors in
your mood at this time, more than mental images or
metaphor. You were actually living in a zone where you were
up against these things every day. You had no time for
trivia, for mediocrity, for idleness disguised as making
money, for papershuffling, for that hesitancy before the
consequences, for all the ebbing hearts of ebbing men. You
felt in consequence very interesting - as if you were
making extremely important discoveries. You felt like you
were a celebrity, living in your little bubble of pure
access. Although it sounds crazy, you felt like you were
plugged into other minds, that instinctively you were
receiving from the collective unconscious circa 1982. For
this reason, the problem of making money took on for you an
aspect which, at other times in your life, has been
mediated by your less concentrated, less uniformly pressing
purposiveness. You didn't want to dissipate your
inventiveness, your purity, your year zero, in something
minor, something merely remunerative. Especially since you
were a star. It poses a metaphysical problem - stars depend
on discovery, the moment of discovery is the moment of
stardom, but what is discovered is star quality. Maybe this
is the ability to be discovered, the zen like emptiness of
the infinite regress, mirrors reflecting mirrors. But you
were there, you knew it, you felt it, flashing from one
tained surface to another. So you needed enough money to
eat, to buy paint with, to get gas for the old truck you d
bought so that you could go around collecting junk, and to
buy books. You were reading like a madman in a Dostoevsky
novel - that is to say, you took seriously everything you
read. Everything you read was about you, it was the
criteria. Toss the book away if it wasn't about you, if it
wasn't about you the very ink the book was printed in was
the track of some disinherited turd and none of your
concern. You'd stay up until three reading a chapter from
one book and then dropping it and reading a chapter from
another book. You let the books pile up in mounds around
your bed. You were willing to make this money by cleaning
things, hauling, digging - anything but such work as would
abuse your brain with ineffectual and alien concerns.
On principle you were - and are still - arrogant about
not earning a living. Leona Helmsley said that only little
people paid taxes, and at that time you thought the same
thing about earning money. Power goes if you don't
establish in yourself certain standards, let yourself
become arrogant in certain ways. If you start thinking
there is any justification external to you for what goes on
inside you, if you fall for that line, you're fucked. It's
like the relationship between the best punk and the record
companies. It's a question of who uses who. But you
understood that this power was conditional upon a certain
humility, upon a willingness to beg. To mooch. It was the
thing of the two poles of abjection and sublimity, the
sanctioned things being untouchable, unclean. God protected
and unclean at the same time. And the difficult thing is
that you were always conscious of the price one pays for
the things one borrows - a certain loss of generosity, a
certain loss of self-esteem, a gradual entanglement in the
complex casuistry of excuses, of separations from one's
acts, of disavowals ultimately damaging not so much to one's
honesty - which is always an iffy thing you can't put too
much stock in, since the thing about being honest is it goes
usually with being dishonest about the function of honesty,
pretending that it doesn t have any, which is an up the ass
kind of business - but to one's integrity, one's ability to
suspend judgement as to the rightness or wrongness of one's
situation-of- the-moment, and to loop out of oneself, come
back to one's present and familiar courses as a stranger.
Do you know how important that is? It is everything to find
yourself the strange buckskinned man on your own doorstep,
because once you loose that art is a career and you worry
about NEA grants and other such crap. The whole point is to
usurp the freedom of a character in the funnies. Sometimes,
not having enough money at the month's end to pay my rent,
you would give Dita or Mom a call and ask for money, or even,
after events that you are about to describe, Annie.
Annie, Julia's best friend.
Oh that bug!
Annie, Julia's best friend.
Oh that bug!
Self is getting ahead of himself - yes, slipping out of
his own grasp like an eel, like a dialectician's magic
trick, naughty boy. Mentioning Margarete already. That wasn't
in the contract now, was it?
Self, in his eighteenth year, went West, like many a
young man before him - Billy the Kid, Huckleberry Finn,
Rimbaud, we'll count Rimbaud, an honorable desperado, for
whom West was any dive on the road, any travelling freak
show or graffitied message on a bridge. Since this time he
no longer likes to think of himself as having a home. Self
thinks in imperial terms about himself, Emperor Street, he
thinks of his life as a zone of rule having capitals in the
full imperial sense, cities into which the whole essence of
the culture is distilled: Austin, New Orleans, Santa Fe.
This flight west with Mark, all his things and Mark's piled
in the U-Haul which trailed behind them, attached to self's
huge blue Plymouth, signified a shift in the whole balance
of self's life. Self had two guides then: Patty Smith's
music and Rimbaud's poetry, and he felt obscurely aligned
with the message there. Il m'est bien evident que j'ai
toujours ete race inferieure. Time to prove it.