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.
The question, then, is why novelists have ceded their ground to science. And from the writer’s perspective, if not from the reader’s, an allegorical interpretation of the neuronovel does seem possible. Is the interest in neurological anomaly not symptomatic of an anxiety about the role of novelists in this new medical-materialist world, which happens also to be a world of giant publishing conglomerates and falling reading rates? Are novelists now, in their own eyes and others’, only special cases, without specialized and credentialed knowledge, who may at best dispense accurate if secondhand medical (or historical or sociological) information in the form of an entertaining fictional narrative? And is the impulse to write not an inexplicable compulsion, a category of disorder outside the range of normal?