Being the Author’s ruminations on the myth of
mental Handicams and post-post-modernism . . .
Feels like I feel too much
I've seen too much
For a little while
I want to forget
I wanna be numb
--Pet Shop Boys, "Numb"
What you're gonna say in private
You still want my love,
we're in this together
And what you're gonna do in public
Say you were never in love
that you can remember
--Pet Shop Boys, "In Private"
Back in the library
His revenge is his story . . .
For Casanova has the last laugh
Creates the myth and vindication . . .
--Pet Shop Boys, "Casanova In Hell"
A Note Regarding Weblog Reincarnation
If you're curious about what I'm doing back here, these are the tenuous explanations. But be forewarned--I still don't have a clue about the latest purpose of this blog. Not yet, anyway. The only certainty is that what I write here will be thoroughly Not Like My Book--although I suspect it may often be about my struggles with it.
William Gibson famously said that "The street finds a use for things." And similarly, I'll eventually understand what to do with CultureHack (Mark IV). I'm guessing we'll all find out what I'm up to at the same time, when whatever this site is supposed to do reaches critical mass and manifests. But in the meantime, I'm not worrying about it: After all, I always do my best work (and feel most comfortable) in interstitial spaces . . .
Lately, I’ve been spending significant time making sure that the memories depicted in the book are both behaving as they should and as I want them to. And no, this isn’t obsessive attention to a small facet of the story. Formal Absence is chockablock with memories--it could be argued it’s comprised of nothing else. So not getting the memories right--especially the various ways they function--pretty much leaves me screwed.
Earlier and elsewhere I’ve outlined how the novel examines the fluidity of memory and, since--done correctly--this is one of its flashier aspects, you’d be forgiven for assuming this is the book’s defining conceit: Shards of backstory crosscut like a late ‘Sixties art film; the prose equivalent of a Nic Roeg movie (which on one level, I still hope it is). But no--the threadbare exoticism of shattered linearity isn’t the main point (except when it attracts film studios that want to option the book, in which case, yes--it’s totally why I wrote the thing).
Here’s some mind-numbingly obvious news: The workings of memory are much more complex than Hollywood’s classic spinning-room montages or its more recent penchant for nearly subliminal jump-cuts.
(Thinking about it, pretty much anything is more complex than its Hollywood depiction, which suggests why mainstream films avoid genuinely X-rated scenes. It’s not fear of the ratings system or public outcry--it’s the fact that sex is something we’re all aware is complex. Hollywood might fool most of us into believing an atomic bomb can be built from a toaster and the radium from a watch face; it can probably cajole us into assuming that emptying two clips from a Glok into someone’s chest is not necessarily fatal or, if it is, that the zombie-fication process is quick, easy and inevitable; and it may even be able to get us to buy into the presentation of vigilante rubber fetishists as superheroes. But sex? No way--because we’ve all been there and done that. We may not know squat about atomic bombs, gun battles, zombies or deeply disturbed, insomniac millionaires in body armor--but is there anyone out there without first-hand knowledge that with sex there’s always the tug of some sort of backstory? That the context always finds its way into the act--if only as the brutal logistics of performing while holding two cameras and trying not of slide off the plastic sheeting so as not to domino the last-surviving and oiled members of the Munchkinland cast into the frat-boy spectators? Or, uh, so I’m told . . . )
The reason the writing has taken so long is due--in part, at least--to my wrestling with the multifaceted nature of memory. Because if it’s already a slippery business in terms of the neuroscience, well, artistically memory’s like Vasoline-coated ice (and, thankfully, in no way like the corners of Barbara Streisand’s mind). The best way to explain the artistic challenge of memory is with yet another self-indulgent tangent. (Since you had to know this was coming, I’m not even going to pretend to apologize; it is, after all, this blog’s price of admission.)
In my significantly misspent youth, I frequently won bar bets by challenging easy marks to calculate how many ways there were to make change for a dollar. The answer is a startling 293 variations. For our purposes, the take-away is that all those configurations of coinage are equally valid--the “normal” ways are merely those variants popularized by pricing practices and vending machine traditions. In terms of depicting memory, the aforementioned spinning-room montage is the equivalent of a safely obvious four quarters, while the jagged jump cut is the more esoteric five dimes / one quarter/ five nickels. But outside of these Big, Predictable Depictions of Recall, the less-obvious workings of memory are left unexamined pretty much in the same way the other 291 ways of making change are ignored.
Memory rarely--if ever--behaves like total recall. Filmmakers like to pretend it does because budgets can be much leaner if the more authentic surrealism of the recollections in The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind can be avoided. The prospect of standard sets, regular wardrobe and practically no special effects is more than enough to make most directors pretend memory is simply subjective documentary footage of the past. To me, that old lady’s granular recollections in Titanic are deeply disturbing--the hand-beaded gowns of passengers never spoken to can be absolutely remembered, as can the side dishes of dinners on other tables yards from her and the contents of a storage hold for more than 1,000 people. Absolutely recalled after more than 70 years. From this vantage, the film is more a deluxe Twilight Zone episode than a tragic romance. I kept expecting Rod Serling to stroll in after the she tosses the necklace into the sea: “Submitted for your consideration, Ms. Rose DeWitt Bukater, an elderly woman incapable of forgetting the smallest
detail . . . ”