WRITING PROMPT #1 – Manhatta (1921) – Documentary Film by Paul Strand was last modified: January 26th, 2015 by Shane Jesse Christmass
January 26, 2015
Edward J. Rathke (http://edwardjrathke.com/) released the book Noir: A Love Story on Civil Coping Mechanisms this past summer. It’s a detectiveless detective tale sifting through 26 perspectives in order to find the truth behind two deaths, one town that exists nowhere, and what it means to have a dream.
Edward’s memoir, Transdimensional Transgender Transubstantiation, came out in October 2014, and an existential fantasy novel, Twilight of the Wolf (Perfect Edge Books), in March 2014. His novella, Girl With Ears & Demon With Limps, came out in February of the same year. Edward’s first book, Ash Cinema (KUBOA Press) was published in 2012.
1: Which literary genre, if any, influenced Noir: A Love Story the most, and why?
There are a lot of things that influenced Noir: A Love Story, and surprisingly few of them are literary, actually. It’s very influenced by experimental literature, but only those that experiment in a structural way. There’s little being done to the sentence in the novel, but the structure’s where it gets pretty playful.
There were three main goals: I wanted to write a novel that could be read in any order, where the narrative to happen completely off the page, and that was built on dissonance.
Those were the driving forces here and I’m still surprised it came out as well as it did. I wrote this in five days, and the biggest part of the editing process was taking these 26 narrators and stitching them into an order that I felt was dynamic and captivating. Because of the way I built the novel [and it was very much an act of building], the real narrative movement is one of contradiction, and the reader must build the narrative, and create it for themselves, because I’m largely just dropping breadcrumbs to lead you out of the forest.
The biggest influences, though, were film and music. Especially Max Richter’s From the Art of Mirrors and Wong Kar Wai’s filmography, but especially In the Mood for Love and 2046. Also Terrence Malick and Kim Ki-duk and Andrei Zvyagintsev and Olafur Arnalds and Prokofiev and Zhang Yimou and Christopher Doyle and Shigeru Umebayashi and Zbigniew Preisner and Abel Korzeniowski and hundreds more.
2: What’s the best thing about writing? The worst?
The best thing is when you’re flying on the keyboard and you’re not really writing anymore but just trying to keep up with the visions hurricaning past you. It becomes more an act of translation than anything else, and I’m just trying desperately to tie the visions to the page. And then there’s the calm that comes when you’ve spent all day at the keyboard and you have forty or so pages to show for it.
The worst is how I plummet out of the real world. I stop eating or sleeping or doing anything. I write in marathon sprints so if I’m noveling, that’s all I’m doing for a week. Not really time to be a real person. And then when I’m not writing, there’s the constant ache and wailing within me telling me to get these stories down.
Last December, during one of those periods of Internet-wondering that happens every so often, I came across an article on Lifehacker (one of the Gawker family of content-scrolls) in which columnist Thorin Klosowski illuminated some reasons to read fiction. While making sure to point out that “[r]eading fiction doesn’t always have the tangible benefits that science demands,” it can help us learn things like: “[f]iction teaches you that change is inevitable” and “[r]eading might help you learn empathy.” Emphasis there, I believe, on the might.
A few weeks later, I found myself confronted by another, competing claim. Bill McKibben, in his introduction to the NYRB reprint of Yaşar Kemal’s epic novel They Burn the Thistles, notes that:
** Bring me your tired, derivative, overwrought dead manuscripts, yearning to be erased from memory… This is the fifth in an ongoing series where authors get to share a piece of a novel/writing project that died long before it ever could have proven its worth to its parent, its master: the author. Instead of letting the maybe-horrible, maybe-unbearable Word doc remain untouched in some far off and forgotten file folder, why not let the readers at ENCLAVE have a look? Think of it as closure. They won’t laugh, I swear.
This time we have Bud Smith, author of Moondog Over the Mekong with an excerpt from a dead project called, “The Inside Juice.”
If you are interested in having an excerpt featured in the “From the Grave” series, be sure to email me at michael @ coping mechanisms dot net. **
So the Division Head sat him down and asked what he wanted. Not out of this company or this job or this quarter but what he wanted. Since what he wanted was nothing you could tell a DH he bumbled into a monosyllabic mutter that thoroughly demonstrated he was devoid of all reasonable ambition. The DH sat there tapping a gold pen against his teeth which was the kind of habit he himself was scared of because it’d be murder on your dental. Which was why he took this job in the first place. Because he was scared. Back in the lobby there were plastic plants and piped-in watersounds to replace the angel fountain and the 4 others he’d rode up with from the branch office were still upstairs. So he stayed in the lobby all morning and well into afternoon eating soggy pretzels from the basket at the Welcome Desk where the receptionists smiled brightly from inside their glass service cubicles and did not ask if he was headed back upstairs. He was afraid to try out the security guys and besides it was a heatwave out there. They were getting worse every year. Also outside even children turned bandit if you looked to be carrying anything worth anything and even though he wasn’t he probably looked like it. There were no benches or chairs because it wasn’t the kind of lobby you loitered in though it was the kind of lobby where everyone seemed to know what it meant when you went came back downstairs that fast.
In the offices upstairs after the DH was done with him he thought maybe he ought to hang around. Have some chitchat. Get some inside juice. But the offices weren’t any kind of place for loitering either. Everyone looked all harried with their scheming. Besides what good was inside juice going to do him now so he hit on the hope the driver would run him back to the branch office but that was crazytalk with gas high as it was. Everyone said it was good of the company to provide drivers and the streets were clogged with old schoolbuses and minivans ferrying around worker bees like himself to good companies. Sitting in traffic with a handkerchief over his mouth he was not always so sure it was such a good thing plus a schoolbus wasn’t much deterrence against bandits but the company couldn’t do everything. Yep he was into the company but good ever since he got married and scared and joined the workaday world because the future wasn’t going to stop its looming and he had nothing to confront it with. Certainly not any money. The company made you feel you were making positive progress on your family’s future whether you wanted to or not. Also he was a little ashamed at his wedding that he was 30 and his parents had to pay for their own hotel rooms and his younger brother gave them a His ’n Hers selection of handmade Thai silks from a business trip to the Far East. He got to thinking that if his brother got married he wouldn’t even be able to afford to go. Then he lucked into this job with its shot at the legit world and now after 4 years he guessed it was mostly luck he’d kept it this long.
Along about midmorning came a monsoon torrent of the kind it used to be you could only see in movies but now were practically normal. The street flooded with turds and candy wrappers that washed up against the glass lobby doors. Grayswirled water leaked in no matter how many towels the receptionists in rubber boots applied to the bottom of the doors. He stood on the ledge with the plastic plants and the driver where the fountain used to be until sewer-reeking brownwater had started shooting from the angel’s mouth. Out on the city dyke the deluge had probably stopped work again and the saltwaves kept on rising while upstairs the DH was probably talking about Visions of Market Excellence. No one at the company seemed to doubt the right combination of Core Proactive Strategies would carry them through so who was he to doubt it. Obviously no one. Seven hours he waited in the lobby until the last person turned up and they could head out to the minivan in the sunhaze which had already dried the muck to a glazed dust which would mingle with the fumes he’d breath in on the company bus tomorrow.
The minivan at least had windows that shut although no air conditioning. The driver turned off the engine at stoplights which he thought was bad fuel economy and what little circulation there was stopped altogether. The sweat dripping off his earlobes splotched his shoulders and who knew whether it was him or the damp-armed man next to him that reeked. Of course body odor was a Retroactive Issue. Any good company man and / or woman could tell you only a Proactive Strategy could get you out of the Problem Trap and into a Solution Mindset but he had no solution to the pretzels roiling in his stomach. Although possibly it wasn’t so much the pretzels as all the things he didn’t know about the future which never arrived but nevertheless went skidding past. The minivan swerved around a hunched-over junk vendor pushing a cart. He tapped the driver on the shoulder to ask him to pull over. When the driver snarled What the hell we just got going he said For God’s sake pull over.
He nearly impaled himself on the gearshift when the minivan lurched to a stop. He scrambled over the woman who’d been the second one to come back downstairs but must have scented the pariah on him and didn’t stand near him in the lobby. There couldn’t have been more than half a dozen shadetrees left in all the city but he stepped right out into the shade of a big one which sheltered a fetid pool with a surface coagulated to goo. Under the expressway he leaned against a cracking pillar near a row of tin shacks. Rows of underaged eyes watched him dry heave till he thought his guts were ripped from intestines to anus. When his eyes cleared he saw the driver leaning out the window yelling something he couldn’t hear over the roar of the expressway. Then the minivan was gone and he was a very very long way from home or anywhere. Filthy half-clothed children crept out of the shacks and one squatted beside him and said Hello Mister. He said Hello yourself and the child said Where you going? and he said Nowhere I’m going to get.
The children gathered in with various sharp objects but that was alright. The future was all gone off his shoulders and he had nothing in the world to be scared of.
We are all witnessing the effects of capitalism over our present times in the forms of abstraction of work, the disembodiment of the conscience, and the dematerialization of the commodities. The Italian Marxist Franco “Bifo” Berardi attributes the origin of this great transformation through abstraction to the development of finance:
Finance is the most abstract level of economic symbolization. It is the culmination of a process of progressive abstraction that started with capitalist industrialization. Marx speaks of abstract labor in the sense of an increased distancing of human activity from its concrete usefulness. In his words, capitalism is the application of human skills as a means to obtain a more abstract goal: the accumulation of value[i].
On this particular situation he states that the most important changes in societies due to the dematerialization and the general abstraction of the economic rules and procedures are the disembodiment of the “general intelligence”, a concept he uses sometimes in terms of a representation of the cognitive group of workers whose labor is now exploited; the deterritorialization of labor and productivity, that ignited a process of pulverization and precarization of work and worker; the end of growth as a concept related to the “increase of social happiness and satisfaction of the basic needs of people”, but instead the expansion of financial profits and the expansion of the global volume of exchange value. He talks about “the new alienation” occurring in the cognitive worker by precarization and the acceleration of the information flow and productivity. All of these transformations are symptoms of the general intelligence as disembodied, taken away from its own social and erotic body.