Monday, July 21, 2014

"Wagner in the Desert" by Greg Jackson

Started reading this on the bus today, from the 7/21 New Yorker. At first, theme- and voice-wise reminded me of a more-muscular Bret Easton Ellis and Raymond Carver, i.e., the literature of my Youth and also of how I partially felt then (only partially, since Ellis/Carver, though the settings of each could not be more different, also managed to be similarly non-emotively engaged, i.e., unnecessarily "cool").

Jackson, on the other hand, writes about ennui the way that the hyper/verbal Norman Mailer would have written about ennui had he felt it and had the late '60s/early '70s world and publishing world asked for it.

At this passage by Jackson, I stopped thinking about Ellis/Carver/Mailer and started thinking about Jackson:
When I say that I was visiting old friends, friends from whom my life and sense of life had diverged, I am not trying to set myself apart. Marta and Eli had lived in Los Angeles for a number of years -- long enough, I suppose, that whatever logic connected immediate impulse to long-term goal to life plan to identity had slipped below conscious awareness and become simply a part of them. I was by no means innocent, either, of the slow supplanting drift by which the means to our most cherished and noble ends become the ends themselves -- so that, for instance, writing something to change the world becomes writing something that matters to you becomes publishing something halfway decent becomes writing something publishable; or, to give another arbitrary example, finding everlasting love becomes finding somewhat lasting love becomes finding a reasonable mix of tolerance and lust becomes finding a sensible social teammate.

And then:
But in retrospect it wasn't really about Lily, this sense of being cheated. I needed something to happen. Something new and totalizing to push forward a dithering life. I needed to remember what it felt like to live. And drugs were not just handmaiden or enabler but part and parcel of the same impossible quest, which you could say was the search for the mythical point of most vivid existence, the El Dorado of aliveness, which I did not believe in but which tantalized me nonetheless, a point of mastering the moment in some perfect way, seeing all the power inside you rise up and coincide with itself, suspending life's give-and-take until you are only taking, claiming every last thing you've ever needed or wanted -- love, fear, kinship, respect -- and experiencing it all at the very instant that every appetite within you is satisfied.

I wanted to read a poem that had recently moved me. I'd been trying to read it every night, as a prelude to dinner or a coda to dinner, but things kept getting in the way. The mood, for instance. It wasn't a very poem-y poem, but it was a poem, and I guess it had that against it. Still, it was funny and affecting, and I saw it as a sort of moral Trojan horse, a coy and subtle rebuke to everything that was going on, which would, in the manner of all great art, make its case through no more than the appeal and persuasiveness of its sensibility. The others would hear it and sit there dumbfounded, I imagined, amazed at the shallowness of their lives, their capacity nonetheless to apprehend the sublime, and the fact that I had chosen a life in which I regularly made contact with this mood.

Then there's the passage from Lily's POV re why she doesn't particularly feel like having sex with him:
"The thing is," Lily said, "we could and I'm sure it would feel good. But we're old enough now to know some things, to know what happens next, to know that we have sex and then we text and e-mail for a bit, and then you come visit me, or I come visit you, and we start to get a little excited and talk about the thing to our friends, and then we get a little bored because our friends don't really care, and we remember we live in different places and think, Who the fuck are we kidding?, and then we realize that we were always just a little bored, and the e-mails and text messages taper off, and the one of us who's a bit more invested feels hurt and starts giving the whole thing more weight than it deserves -- because these things become referendums on our lives, right? -- and so we drift apart and the thought of the other person arouses a slight bitterness or guilt, depending on who's who at this point..."

At the very end of the story, the 4 friends (the couple, plus Lily and the narrator thrown together) visit the Joshua Tree area while on drugs:
We were listening to a late Beatles album very loud, finding folds within the music that seemed never to have been there before and unlikely to be there again. Lily, every few minutes, burst out laughing wildly, I don't know why. We petted each other a little, sensually, asexually, then we passed into the Coachella Valley, swept down, down into the vast grid of lights, so many colors, all communicating with one another in a lattice of shifting and persistent harmony. And as we returned to the valley floor, where the windmills blinked red and the stars through our open windows were small rounded jewels in the great velvet scrim of night, Lily spoke:
"It's like... it was all choreographed for me," she said, her voice hushed and marveling. "Like everything was arranged for me. To experience just like this."
It took me a second to realize what she was saying and what it meant, to gather my thoughts and say the only thing there was to say.
"But that's what it is," I said."That's what being on drugs is."


No comments: