The Anxiety of Influenza
“All bad poetry is sincere,” I got that from Harold Bloom, who got that from Oscar Wilde, who got that from his clever self, which hardly means that “all great poetry is insincere,” which again I’m getting from The Anxiety of Influence (1973), not the actual book but from Amazon’s virtual “look inside” feature, its animation, estimation, or interpretation of reading less affectionate than reading itself; that is, with a book, whose every page one holds the corner of, and hears going by, one by one, like shuffling a deck of cards in the slowest way possible. Bloom’s point is evident in his title, that the history of literature is ripping off others in the quest to be original; how this is both logically impossible yet always manifesting, albeit inadvertently through our “misreading” of the original. It is true when I let my subscription to The New Yorker expire, months later, at the magazine rack, I solemnly wonder about what I’m missing. I feel the same way passing bars at night, the brittle tinkering of glasses as a high-hat over the cacophonous rumble of voices. Like the red marker a teacher uses to point out what is wrong, the red squiggle of spellcheck is a kind of incision into the flesh of intention, if you were a half-blind James Joyce typing Finnegans Wake. More ominous is the green one, citing sentence fragments you didn’t know were fragmented. “Ignore all,” one may apply to grammar, dentist appointment reminders, and their social life. After watching The Road (2009), I told myself that a few weeks before the end of the world — faithful that Fox News or a crazy person would alert me — I would simply buy a can opener. As people ate each other, I’d have clam chowder and lychees. I didn’t read the book; that this is still considered blasphemy is redeeming: we still believe in the higher collaboration between sole words and imagination. Jonathan Franzen admits to buying copies of his books to give as presents to friends. At the register, he feels like he’s buying a Penthouse. “No, it’s not for my own use…” he says, or at least says he would say, I mean this is the problem with quoting a quote, to which the double quote shielding a single quote offers itself as a solution, like a large circle containing a smaller one — a bagel around a cup of coffee, inside a gurgling stomach — or a ventriloquist with his hand up someone. Everything that is wireless eventually concedes to a cord. Battery is not a crime. Nor is the stomach flu really influenza; it’s gastroenteritis, which hardly needs you to go viral. A man shot another man in Russia over an argument about Kant (the gun must have been a manual). Exactly how sour is cream cheese supposed to be? A man publishes a blog post in America and quickly walks to the bathroom. He has that not so refresh feeling all day. This was entirely made up.