The Natural Dissolution of Fleeting-Improvised Men
by Gabriel Blackwell
Civil Coping Mechanisms, Available October 2013
Gabriel Blackwell channels H.P. Lovecraft in The Natural Dissolution of Fleeting-Improvised Men, an epistolary metafiction that serves as part of a trilogy of works connected by his earlier Shadow Man and Critique of Pure Reason. In the introduction, Blackwell reveals that he has set out to Providence, Rhode Island, to find his girlfriend, Jessica, who disappeared while he was finishing the writing of Shadow Man. During that trek to Providence, he discovers the final letter of H.P. Lovecraft and that last message comprises most of the book in a footnoted poioumena intertwining his own desperate search with Lovecraft’s pestilential descent into madness. This isn’t just a pastiche of Lovecraft though, who died of intestinal cancer and whose last years were the most painfully productive. The mystery takes on a bizarre twist when he discovers the letter is addressed to another Gabriel Blackwell. Horror gets deconstructed and Lovecraft is retrofitted in a work that is less concerned with categorization than the ‘dissolution’ of existence. Experience itself becomes suspect as does the scholarship of pain. Blackwell, the meta character in the book versus the actual author, is typing out Lovecraft’s final letter. But as he does so, he is faced with a troubling revelation:
“That is, coming to the end of the particular sentence I was typing, I would look back over its analogue in the letter and would be unable to find even a third of what I had typed… This was undoubtedly made worse by the thicket of Lovecraft’s characters, by their lack of line breaks and paragraph breaks and even space between words, but it was also a quality of the prose. The events I was transcribing had not only not happened in life but not happened in the letter, either.”
It’s a setup for a mystery, a noir doused in elements of phantasmagoria with a magical lantern projecting Blackwell’s prose. The events described within are as gruesome and macabre as a Lovecraft story and in fact could be mistaken for one of his short stories. Horrible things are happening to the people in Lovecraft’s vicinity as in “this disgusting pile” that “was the remains of a man after he had been devoured and regurgitated by some horrid fungus or slime mold!” The grippe in his belly is devouring him from within and his mental state is corrupted into a decay and darkness that overwhelms his vision as much as his being:
“This thing in the basement was some sort of central node, a convergence of nerves. It was dowered with dark properties and obedient to dark laws; darkness was its element as air is the cloud’s, as water is the sea’s- the clashing, gnashing plates of its existence, in all of their horrifying splendor, were not so much dark as in aspect as of the dark…”
What adds a twist and requires a philological scalpel are the footnotes Blackwell uses to annotate his transcription of the letter. Much of the notes involves further elaboration of the plot details he outlines in his introduction. But there are disturbing intimations that require deciphering, a linguistic sonar to extrapolate from the echoes of meta-Blackwell’s journey. As his pursuit of Jessica becomes more desperate, his physical plight degenerates in a downward progression similar to Lovecraft’s. He is starving, cold, and suffering anemia. His body gets soaked with ink to the point where he does not recognize himself. With his impoverishment, things only get worse:
“I had a chronic inflammation around my anus- it itched all of the time and stung like a cut doused with hydrogen peroxide when wetted. I worried that I had soiled myself because of the wetness there, but always it was only blood.”
This is the hermeneutics of insanity with parallel tracks siphoning off one another. Two stories seem to be running concurrently between the letter and the footnotes. Together, the strands result in a mutation, a third form monstrously baring its fetid belly. Lovecraft dissolves into Blackwell, much like the fungus mysteriously consuming those around him. A 5th dimension is sucking both of them into an agonizing symbiosis that is as much about writing as it is a search for Jessica. Only the search never actually began and the writerly muses are discombobulated, decapitated, then vaporized into “fleeting-improvised men.” The craft of writing takes on a sinister epidemiology as the memory that Lovecraft wrote his best work under the threat of imminent death and intestinal cancer throbs uncomfortably. Meta-Blackwell quotes from Daniel Paul Schreber’s Memoirs of My Nervous Illness:
“I cannot say with certainty who does the writing down. As I cannot imagine God’s omnipotence lacks all intelligence, I presume that the writing-down is done by creatures given human shape on distant celestial bodies after the manner of the fleeting-improvised men…”
Who is the real Blackwell? Who is the real Lovecraft? Both questions are rendered moot when the definition of ‘real’ becomes suspect and the boundaries of fiction and metafiction dissolve. The dissolution only appears natural, when in fact, it has a more ominous etiology lodged somewhere within the maddening brilliance of Gabriel Blackwell’s mind.
“Is it possible to be in a fugue state within a fugue state? Is it possible to forget forgetting something without calling that thing to mind? My past “I”s have been erased from myself, replaced as 1s and 0s on a hard drive are, overlaid with new 1s and 0s that both supplant and destroy.”
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