Note: This is a collaborative short story. The authors produced it by sending work back and forth over email, based upon the authors’ experiences with the most ridiculous intellectual posturing of the academy. This story will be incorporated into a larger text called The Book of Methods, featuring a series of collaborations between Schneiderman and other writers, all powered by “machines” particular to each writer.
a matter of degree
Exhibit A: This book hurts. Like it’s made of sand. Coarse sand. I can’t finish it, because it hurts so much. Sand running over my gums. Emotionally, physically. A durian fruit lodged in my pyloric valve. I just have to stop reading and sit by myself all slugabed in the dark with a tumbler of ice-cold, mint-infused faux-Darjeeling listening to Charles Mingus’s Ah Um, no, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, and whispering my oh-so-calming mantra.
The first time: Oh yes, the new Chair of Graduate Studies. Yes, him. Can’t you see that he’s a minion of the University’s privatization plan? I don’t care if he is a “Marxist” mother-fucking editor of Radical Teacher. I’ve written a poem where he appears around town: at the Laundromat advising you on how to get your whites even whiter while he fondles your unmentionables (I struck the line where he licks your undies); at the grocery checkout—no, not Shop N’ Save, but Aldi—bagging your generic navy beans, and there’s a good chance you’ll find cricket parts in there. It happened to the retired classics professor with the glass jaw. He found the whole thing strangely thrilling, and I kissed him at the Halloween party. Yes, him.
II. I went on this, like, really life changing journey to the Taos Pueblo and I could really feel the power of the land there. Everything was so colorful—like living inside of Frida Kahlo’s head if she was possessed by a really wise animal spirit. A Pooka. Like Harvey the invisible rabbit. I took this jar of dirt because it has magic healing properties. Every time I start to feel sick I just sprinkle some of this dirt in my water bottle and hold a swig in my cheeks until it mixes completely with my spit and then I drop a little into my palms and rub across my cheeks while swallowing the rest with my eyes closed.
Alpha: It’s like the end of Finnegan’s Wake, where the two women narrating the universe weep in their Guinness like children—turn to stone—and then feel like the calcium-rich lampreys running thick through the Liffey jump into the effluvia of language permeating their own experience. That’s what this book you’re reading now reminds me of in a weird way.
Item C: What do I find funny? Sometimes when I listen to Ravel, certain movements take on personalities. They just have this jaunty sort of persona that reminds me, for some reason, of certain Dostoevsky characters. Especially Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, or the father in The Brothers Karamazov, you know, the one whose serfs choke him with vodka passes through a funnel. I always imagined him as looking something like Julia Kristeva with Rosacea. When I hear those characters channeled through that music, I smile to myself a sort of knowing grin. I’m very content.
For consideration: I like to add Toni Morrison, maybe Song of Solomon, to the syllabus to spice things up a bit. It’s not as good as Deliverance with that piggy-squealing ream action, but hell, I’ve been teaching that one so long I can almost see Ned Beatty getting all glassy eyed. What’s that you’re humming? “One toke over the line”? Yeah, I like that (singing): “One toooke ooover the liiine…” Ok, my eager grad assistants, let’s get back to the lecture class. I think those kids have had enough time to talk among themselves.
4. At first I wanted someone to ask him to speak louder. But then, the musicality of his voice, I felt myself being lulled in. He spoke so softly I loved having to really focus, like I’m in a small cellar trapped by someone whose footsteps move so across the floorboards that they may not be there are all.
&: We’ve got to take a stand now, my brothers, my pistol-whipping mutineers, against the administration’s limits on our constitutional rights involving photocopying. Bullshit capitalist marionettes trying to squelch the free speech of our mimeograph machine. They are brainwashing the undergraduates by the omission of knowledge and withholding the symmetry of the dialectical materialist critique. We’ll strike, we’ll refuse to teach, we’ll write a strongly worded letter that begins, “Dear Sir or Madam,” but then, get this, goes completely hard-core anarcho-syndicalist on their asses. Fight the father-fucking powers that be….boooyeee!
Article E: I put his handouts on my fridge at home. I look at them every day, each time I go for the milk or to grab leftover coq au vin. He’s been to prison before. I really respect that.
6) I think I need a personal drummer, some sort of iPercussion section to really tie me into the spirit world. Cause I think I am—you know—tied in to a spirit world, but not this one yet. I’m riding with valkyries, doing the star-scattered two-step in the vaikunta with Ndjambi when I need to just be rolling a phat blunt with Manabozho. Right? A repetitive beat could really focus my energies towards the eightfold path the golden mean the middle way a sort of laid-back nirvana where everything is brilliant whiteness.
*: No, it’s not ‘hate’ on the other knuckle, it’s ‘true’. My knuckles ground me and remind me what’s important in life. They’re like gravity stabilizers for when I feel myself getting caught up in other pursuits. All I have to do is look down and see ‘true love’. That’s what it’s all about. What’s that? Yes, sometimes I do wear gloves.
**: When I read Blanchot, it really makes we wonder, why write at all? I mean, why fucking write? Why construct a sentence if it’s only going to get fucking deconstructed? Do you fucking understand what I am fucking saying? There’s like no fucking point. And reading? Well, I guess that’s a fucking steaming fucking load of shit too.
Exhibit H: You can choose what you want out of life. It’s true. Like her, see…she chose to have a huge ass. And it’s terrible, don’t get me wrong, but it’s all psychology.
///: That guy? He used to date the feminist studies professor who writes about body image in her leopard-print winter coat with buff arms like small machine guns. Heard he got smacked around quite a bit. I found a ball gag in the garbage the day they called it off. It was notable because usually I don’t find anything interesting in his trashcan.
%: And so, that’s why my syllabus ends with a space for your signature. You’ll notice it states that everyone must be respectful of the topic—queer studies—and that those expressing contrary opinions will be asked to drop the course. This is the best way to ensure fair and open discourse for all concerned.
IX: I had a girlfriend who was a little crazy, and Sylvia Plath was a little crazy, so that’s why I have a love/hate relationship with Sylvia Plath. It’s the same with Tolkien. I want to like hobbits,
but I can’t like hobbits, because Tolkien was a Catholic, and so was my father.
|||: Yes, it’s a trailer, and yes, the wood paneling reminds me of some pedophile basement from 1974, but the rent is dirt cheap and we are up-river a bit from the University and I can just, you know, chill out with myself here and watch pornos and think about some of the really good-looking girls in my discussion section and figure out if what I’m saying about Hamlet really makes any sense to them…I think they somehow know that I want to get into their pants more than anything in your philosophy, Horatio.
11. Mike Leigh’s film Naked. And then there’s this Tartovsky film that just changed my life. It just spoke to me, blew apart my world like a dirty bomb. What can I say? I guess I’m a sort of connoisseur of old and slightly obscure foreign cinema. I can’t abide that saccharine contemporary Hollywood shit. Films (if they can even be called films) with that chick with the hair or that guy with the eyes are the optic equivalent of a burst Pentontillar Abcess dripping down your throat while eating mashed pineapple. Vomit rises and your tongue is rammed up some dirty-hippie’s syphilitic asshole. I need a pallet cleansing sorbet.
Who? Fellini? I don’t know who that is. Ingmar…? I’ve never heard that name before. Kurosawa…didn’t he make that Last Samurai movie with Tom Cruise? Could you say that again? Jodorowsky?
@: It’s all metaphors really. Like in Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor. She shows—and I think the next thing you should do today is buy this book, make yourself a hot cup of limeflower tea with some crispy Madeleine cookies and then read it straight through—how the tropes we use to describe something account for what that something is. We use all these war words for cancer, and we’re just militarilizing the thing. What if we used, I don’t know, animal words, like we have to “molt” cancer from the face of the earth rather than we have to “obliterate” it and shit? Yes, that’s it exactly. When your cousin dies from cancer, she’s really dying from a metaphor like a spotted owl whose been placed on the endangered species list.
Beta: It was an incredible day. I went to the park to find him, shirtless, there against the tree trunk. He was reading Nietzsche, the sun streaming through his hair, and I knew I wanted him. No, no, I figure that even if I miss him this time around, I’ll approach during the eternal return.
#: I just love Kay-mus. His descriptions are so rich and thick with the energy of the dripping Mediterranean sun. It’s a solar myth he explores on the hot sands of North Africa, that Kay-mus. What that? Really? It’s really pronounced Ca-moo? Now I’ve been here five years and no one has ever bothered to correct me. Shit. Next thing I know you’ll be telling me it’s not Der-i-da either. Did you ever see that movie The English Patient? You know? With Ralf Fiennes, Juliette Bin-O-shay, William Dafoe, and Keersten Scott Thomas? There’s sand in that, too.
Exhibit M: I feel like the two of us exist on this other-worldly level—a sort of advanced astral plane—where everything is white, and funky jazz like real funky Mingus maybe Mingus at Antibes, no, Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus, plays from some invisible speakers positioned always just behind us, beyond our each, you know?
Or from each atom floating in the air.
(): I was sitting writing down quotes on a note card. I realized that highlighting wasn’t good enough. The language, is just so beautiful, so deep, it has to be rewritten. And then rewritten again. That’s why I’m transcribing my note cards onto a second set of note cards.
Epsilon: And then we have like some sort of TV monitor that we use to observe and discuss the less-meaningful lives of other human beings but the thing is stuck on like eternal mute and our comments are like director’s comments that we can’t even play back and sometimes it’s like we’re saying something really important and intellectual about a scene but the scene passes before we get it out and then it’s like there’s no way to sync the sound and image track so we just start making eyes at each other you know the eyes I mean, yes, those eyes, because no one really gets the things that we get or at least think we get and maybe it doesn’t matter anyway when we wink together the way only we can wink like the TV screen fading in and out as the tea wafts its steam over everything in this space.
Jessica Berger was born and raised in Chicagoland, where she is now a graduate student in UIC’s Program for Writers. She has worked as an illustrator and is especially interested in the coupling of text and her other great love: the visual arts.
Davis Schneiderman is a multimedia artist and writer whose works include the current or forthcoming novels Drain (Triquarterly/Northwestern), Blank: a novel (Jaded Ibis), Multifesto: A Henri d’Mescan Reader (Spuyten Duyvil), DIS (BlazeVox) and Abecedarium (Chiasmus, w/Carlos Hernandez); the co-edited collections Retaking the Universe: Williams S. Burroughs in the Age of Globalization (Pluto) and The Exquisite Corpse: Chance and Collaboration in Surrealism’s Parlor Game (Nebraska, 2009); and the audiocollage Memorials to Future Catastrophes (Jaded Ibis). His creative work has been accepted by numerous publications including Fiction International, The Chicago Tribune, The Iowa Review, and Exquisite Corpse. He is Director of Lake Forest College Press/&NOW Books, where he edits the series The &NOW AWARDS: The Best Innovative Writing; he also directs the NEH-funded Virtual Burnham Initiative.