Celebre gusto fue el de aquel varón galante,
que repartió la Comedia en tres jornadas…
La primera empleó en hablar con los muertos.
La segunda con los vivos.
La tercera, consigo mismo.
Baltasar Gracián, “El Discreto” 1640
The Third Rome was hosting those games where the world’s strong and youthful seek personal famam gloriamque by brandishing extremities in all forms of contortions, a nation’s flag validating their claim to athleticism as an excuse to vomit the fatherland’s greatness over ulterior fatherlands.
During this climate of ecstatic humanity and sweating puerility, Uncle Micha came for supper.
He knocked on the door, formally introducing himself, as though the five years since his passing had erased his fervent memory from his relatives. The man’s apparition proceeded to shake hands with his four year-old great-niece, the birthday girl, whose nativity he regrettably missed. He manifested for everyone present a rapacious jazz learned with Anubis, thus showing off a much deserved reunion with his lower half, both legs having been amputated during his life due to osteomyelitis’s fascination with our favorite erudite uncle.
Over the course of sipping shchi and cuddling the birthday girl against his ancient chest, much to the child’s delight, he told us, in a convoluted, downright retrograde method, his chronicle. He desired to insure his descendants remembered the old man.
I, throughout my life, did many things. Among them, declare war on poetry; that monstrous she-dog devouring all that approaches diversity, cave canem, ensnare a retinue of fanatics, and exile my hamstrings to Kazakhstan, which was a lucky stroke as they almost sent this humble scholar to the bowels of hell, Siberia, under the excuse he participated in underground machinations alongside the Russian Orthodox Church. I am personally not convinced whether that was accurately the case, but nobody recalls anyways, and who am I, Bakhtin, to correct the multitudes? Uncertainty makes this dilapidated man worthier of history’s precarious reminiscence.
In one’s winter, the urge to reflect upon the mortal coil’s progress from one’s primavera happens with solitude.
“Only I am untouched by otherness.”
She is so gallant.
You, Bahktin, walked lopsidedly, longing for a leg, who departed without saying good bye.
The meeting at the Mordovian Pedagogical Institute, where you parted ways with the leg’s need while recoiling once and from all from OPOYAZ, took place in the courtyard.
“Poetry is a science, Micha.” Shklovsky, his claws clutching your letter, greeted you to the bench, not bothering to utter a “hello,” knowing full well intelligent conversation between literati possesses little time for frivolities. Instead, the formal man launched headfirst the method’s apologia. Supporting OPOYAZ’s formula for organizing the written word, that unappreciative leg, unfolds into the ridiculous. The addendum now physically vanished, but psychologically ever present.
“The science, old friend, supports poetry as though it were supreme, when in reality she is a beggar, an excuse, an impoverished, famished genre needing, as my letter states, support.”
Prose is reality’s only literary reflection. You produced for Shklovsky a more detailed explication for your rejection of the formalization of literature and language.
You see, Micha, the world is a plethora of multiples. The novelist’s only resource to lengthen a tale resides in his talent to reformulate the multiples beautifully in order to remind those very multiples of their own existence. The multiples influence one another; they are perhaps words or even thoughts outside “correct language.” They, note the plural use of the third person nominative, battle to infiltrate it, note the third person singular dative.
Your teachers are all liars. They impose upon you from genesis a compendium of appropriate terms housed in a dictionary as though the world outside it is a mere temporary fabrication. The little book secretly changes under your grasp, expanding.
“Why,” the student asked, “does my dictionary have new editions every few years?”
Bakhtin, you, the truthful teacher, answered the pupil: “because the multitudes infiltrate it, the real temporary fabrication—the imaginary prop with whom one learns reading.”
Poetry, cave canem, is unitary, you told OPOYAZ’s father. It does not like the multitudes it eventually needs to evolve. Prose, imprisons the unitary, humiliates it, tortures it, urinates on its face, and when it is humbled, exhibits dialects, multiple narrators, internal and external motivations, and an overall picture of all those multitudes in a constant state of change, in a constant dialogue, in a constant struggle to display the world as it really is—a parody, a carnival, a burlesque desecration of all official forms.
Poetry, the gargantuan sack of bones.
Shklovsky tore your letter and, throwing an Olympian tantrum, held responsible Raskolnikov, of all people, for your delusions, Bakhtin. “Poetry is a science. What claims you it an emaciated cadaver?” Your friend, who traveled all the way from civilization to visit you in exile, rained shredded paper upon the courtyard, jumped from one buttress to the next, pivoted and stomped on them, his bald head sprouting one or two new whites, bit his thumb, shed his coat, and overall looked like the King of Fools to show enragement.
OPOYAZ had both legs.
He was a sickly youth, but that impeded not his mind, which encouraged by a kinship to prominent forefathers, tore mouthfuls off up to ten books at once, not a single footnote going to waste. The Polyphemus of Odessa heeded the matron’s words, “eat all that’s on your plate, Micha, just like your brother Nikolai.”
Micha shat criticism from his supper with little difficulty. His mastery was that of literary diarrhea. Smeared in excrement were his beloved Dostoyevsky, Rabelais, Dickens, and even that revered master, Cervantes, whom the boy carefully decorated with rear honors front to back, the medals drooping in heavy stalactites of matter ranging from baby-chicken-yellow, burned-white-man-skin-red, corrugated-tree-bark-like-testicle-brown, to hammer-that-cave-away-you-yahoo-black.
It was a festival, that Bakhtin’s wit. He conversed well with death’s putrefaction.
Do you know I can’t see the board from the back of the room because I need glasses, but my mom can’t afford to buy them? I really want to learn those important things you write on the board, but I am afraid to sit in the front with all of your good kids. I want to tell you why I wear the same clothes every day too, and only eat breakfast every other day. I am too ashamed though. Teacher, please don’t call on me again today. You know I don’t know the answers. I know you must not like me or you wouldn’t question me every day. I know you don’t like me or you wouldn’t look at me that angry way. I sit in the back of the room to escape your questioning. Each day I pray you will not see me, pray you won’t ask me questions. I die a little bit every time you call my name. I die a little bit every day I enter your class too, knowing you will ask me questions and get angry when I don’t know the answers. Do you wonder why I never know the answers?
Do you know that I am poor and have to work everyday after school to help my mom pay rent on a one-room apartment in the bad part of town? Do you know that I have to cook dinner, and take care of my little brothers and sisters too? Do you know that I am ashamed to eat free lunches at school, even though I am always hungry?
I know I would not be afraid if you would like me and smile at me when I enter your classroom. I want to learn, teacher, but I am tired when I come to school. I am not really a bad person teacher. I am just tired, ashamed, and afraid.
I know you don’t like me because my mom never comes to PTA meetings, or open houses, or to parent conferences. She has to work day and nights in motels and can’t get off. She works real hard, but has a hard time coping with life. She is tired, ashamed, and afraid too, just like me. I guess we are losers, just like all those people say. I guess I will just stay home from school. I won’t bother you then and you won’t have to get angry when I can’t answer your important questions. Will you miss me?
It is a thoroughly unprofessional, impractical and much-maligned way of life, yet contrary to popular belief, idling can lead to a rich and ultimately fulfilling existence. How does the serious, or ambitious idler, convert their days of laze and loafing into something meaningful? First, let us begin with a proper and dignified designation: flaneur.
This word, which comes from the French (the same people who brought you raconteur and ennui) is defined in one dictionary as: 1. an aimless idler or loafer. 2. An idle man-about-town. Yet the aesthetic dignity and poetic value of flaning was poignantly captured by 19th century French poet and godfather of flaneurs, Charles Baudelaire: “For the perfect flaneur, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow. To be away from home, yet to feel oneself everywhere at home, to see the world, to be at the center of the world, yet to remain hidden from the world.” Rule #1: A true flaneur must be simultaneously Absent and Present, a shadow with wheels.
Breaking It Down
To the novice or prospective flaneur, be forewarned: you will encounter a great deal of opposition and criticism pertaining to your “waste-of-life” lifestyle. Accusations of laziness, selfishness, irresponsibility, amorality, etc. will come your way. Do not argue or try to defend your lifestyle, but rather respond with a wink and a smile, or a nod, but the smile part is very important for it has been known to soften the roughest of edges. Here are some other essential things to know and spiritually internalize:
Doing nothing is not the same as idling. Idling is an active pursuit, its purpose aimlessness, which is different from not knowing what to do; confusion begetting circular patterns; insurmountable slothfulness. The true flaneur knows that it is not apathy, but resignation, which must be artfully cultivated.
Do not work a steady job, especially one which offers benefits, paid vacation, and annual bonuses. I cannot overemphasize the importance of this creed. Steady work is deadly poison to the spirit of the true flaneur. The beg-borrow-steal creed is much more conducive to a flaneur’s health and well-being. (Note: the unspoken code among flaneurs: never steal from friends, though they are to be considered prime sources from which to beg and borrow). Which brings us to freeloading—
regarded by many as a cancer to Decency and Pride. These so-called virtues must be effaced by Shamelessness. Pride and Shamelessness cannot happily co-habitate. They will fight and bicker and cause friction which may cause Guilt to arise and mud-smear the entire campaign. Tell Pride its services are no longer needed and embrace Shamelessness. Henry Miller, during his down-and-out mongrel days in 1930s Paris (which is the spiritual capital of flaning), devised a plan for filling his empty belly. Each night he would be the dinner guest at the home of a different friend, therefore establishing a seven-day-a-week meal-ticket rotation. Remember: ingenuity, coupled with humble acceptance of charity, is the skeleton key that will open a multitude of doors.
Walking is to a flaneur what oxygen is to an asthmatic. Thoreau, in his three-part lecture entitled “Walking,” said: “I have met one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of walking, that is of taking walks, who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering, which word is beautifully derived from ‘idle people who rove about the country . . . and asked charity, under the pretense of going a` la sainte terre–to the holy land—till the children exclaimed, ‘There goes a sainte-terrer–a holy lander….” The true flaneur knows that his most important flights are grounded, and that his own two legs his greatest mode of transport.
No Code but your Own. Dismiss any popular standards or ideals which do not apply to your lifestyle. For example, being a solid citizen and upstanding member of society has no bearing on flaning, and more often than not will prove harmful to your sovereign self. Which in turn relates to:
Don’t Believe the Hype. Someone tells you: You made your bed, now you have to lie in it. You do not. You can sleep in a friend’s bed. Or on a park bench or under the stars at the beach. Or simply burn the bed, as if it were that proverbial bridge, and dance a dervish around its scattered ashes.
“You can’t kill time without injuring Eternity.” In the Idler’s Paradise, all hands are clockless, which is why steady work, Reality-prescribed obligations and set appointments, cause great damage to the nervous system of flaneurs. As a safety measure, many have developed the as-of-yet-medically-unclassified condition known as Time-Sensitive Amnesia, or T.S.A.
Always remain fascinated with your own Life, or your Life-as-a-Selfmade-Movie. It is okay to briefly lose yourself in the Life-movies of others, but do not get stranded there, for the crosscurrents of dialogue, mixed motives of characters, and parallelism in direction, often leads to a compromise of personal vision. In other words, remain a fiercely independent film-maker.
Eating in Restaurants. Indulge with the stomach and imagination of an unrepentant hedonist. Other times, adopt the role of the hunger-inspired voyeur, and gaze through the restaurant window watching people eat their meals and imagine how good the food tastes or smells. Another tip: visit restaurant restrooms and in your head, or maybe on a paper napkin, sketch short reviews of the restrooms. The liquid soap was an uplifting pink color and lathered nicely. Bubble-graffiti formed an effective overlay to the FOR A GOOD TIME CALL HO-LENA writing on the door of the stall.
Flaning, like any art form, requires discipline, devotion, and a bit of luck. Its history is rich and manifold, counting Henry Miller, Oliver Twist, Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Henry David Thoreau, Edmund White, Jack Kerouac, and Chaplin’s Little Tramp as some of its celebrated torch-bearers. To succeed as a true flaneur you must learn to straddle paradox, like a horse with no name or areas gray. Do not take stake in This or That, or get stuck on the double-edged sword of Right and Wrong: remain aloof yet compassionate, detached yet passionate, isolated yet interdependent. Abide by these principles. Also, ignore these principles when and how you see fit. You are a flaneur. No one is your boss.
He gazed numbly at old tree limbs with withered leaves through iron bars covering his office window. Bars were symbols of his state of being, a lock in a link of chain wrapped around his mind. He pondered past decisions to elude another prison. He escaped from one intolerable cell only to find himself in one many times darker.
A small metal sign attached to his door denoted his esteemed position, Dean. His sterile cell was fitted with dirty, faded brown carpet and broken ivory Venetian blinds. He sat at a scarred metal desk and stared at dirty white walls soiled by time’s neglect. He was held prisoner to inane and mundane tasks and trivial goals. The gray evening turned ebony before his weary eyes. Black clouds covered the sky and his brain with a gloomy shroud of numbness. His only solace was an old ivory colored radio, softly playing Bach.
He had discovered that happiness and position were unrelated. Too many lives, as one once said, are lives of quiet desperation. Empty jobs and unfulfilled dreams are the outcome of deceitful and beguiling nightmares. Happy are they who, regardless of their position, enjoy the tasks set before them and look foreword each day to their work. Money, position, and status are false phantoms of reality.
He gazed upon the sunrise as he drove to work. Orange and pink clouds appeared, and a new day was born. Thoughts of better days passed briefly across his mind. He attempted to hold on to the image of hope. He knew the image would be driven away soon by a bully in a lofty position who demanded total subservience to accomplish his banal inanities.
His eyes gazed across the silent pastures in the distance. His mind sought to photograph the scene for future desperate hours in the market place of dull gray absurdity. The beautiful images always faded away during the pursuit of trivial tasks made large and ugly by an intolerant and despotic man.
His eyes stared at the dark road that took him home in the early hours of the morning. His mind strived to capture the essence of home and family as he tried to push the day of stressful and bitter work away from his conscious brain. Dark images of an arrogant bureaucratic and incompetent despot still clouded his mind with a gloomy dullness.
His mind thought toward tomorrow. His eyes struggled to capture the image of his ultimate escape. He hoped his mind would remember the image throughout his remaining days of meaningless tasks, boring work and the insane demands of a bureaucratic tormenter with a hollow soul.
Incunabulum 4º; a-j⁸;  Leaves
By Andrea Fernandez
Tintero arrived at the workshop the previous year biting his nails to the cuticles with foreboding. He knowingly caused quite a commotion when his cinnamon hand presented that prodigious letter, which without warning spiraled the copiously stoic Fadrique the German into an indisposition surely caused by an excessive outburst of bile in the humors, and generally provoking havoc in the shop, with typists scurrying to and fro as though Burgos had unexpectedly transmuted itself into a vessel afloat a tempest. Read the rest of this entry »
A headless woman is spotted by the girl across the alley. She is topless—the woman—and moderately obese. The girl’s eye gets snared on her nipple like a writer on a moment with potential. The nipple is Mars in a white spotted night. How could she be missed? She packs a black suitcase from the neck down, the head cut off by the upper sill of the window. She moves in and out of view in girlish white cotton underpants. The girl is delighted. This is the first nipple the hotel has borne. Read the rest of this entry »
Sophia saw the bottom of the lake as she would the old Mexican gods. That was a perfect place.
This was the end. The bottom of the lake, coming toward her like the hands of her gentle Quetzalcoatl, became the archway to an infinity where color was replaced by flowers blooming into reality from little holes in the Universe, creating elaborate vines where marigolds mothered roses and serpent Gods slept on petals.
Here were the writhing giants trapped in thoughts and prayers, and the feathered serpents choking the breath from the Holy Father. Not on purpose, but because the world spins so quickly, and because the stars are so bright that snakes are sometimes drunk on all heavenly dance, Quetzalcoatl scaled into the churches and tried to dance with Jesus.
The white man with the translucent eyes, with his hands tucked up into the shape of a perfect steeple, he didn’t dance. The snake was sorrowful. “Why won’t you dance with me. Danza. Move.”
The Jesus’ eyes were empty and longed for a way to step down from the cross, off of his ivory pedestal, and so he bowed toward the serpent and murmured to himself a prayer.
Quetzalcoatl laughed, and asked how powerful a God could be if he were found praying for salvation. “Jesus, are you not the manifestation of God himself? Hola, ¿usted es dios, no?”
Jesus quivered, backing away from Quetzalcoatl’s feathers, which both tickled and agitated him. “I am the son of . . . ”
“Right,” the giant said.
Sophia was just outside the great church, sinking. In this heaven, there is a ranchero filled with sunlight, always skimming the surface of every body and lighting them enough with the color of sun that no one is forgotten and everywhere is seen. There would be music and food forever, and here, the Old World Gods would eat pan de muerto with you, because you’re dead and why not celebrate?
Jesus and Quetzalcoatl talked for a bit, deciding that they could split the heavens to the East of Cassiopeia. “La Diabla is in the South, of course and there are a few others somewhere out there, so if you will tell your people to stop killing my people, por favor, por favor. Loco! I will stop scaring your white land and your white people by coming into their dreams and telling them all about how we swoop around on the Calle drinking the blood of babies. You know it’s a joke, una broma . . . at least these days.”
Sophia shut her eyes and rested, and Quetzalcoatl stomped out of the church, un hombre feliz, a divine businessman, and held her in his scales. He brought her to the place where all the heaven looked like a dream and followed no rules. Sometimes those translucent people would tromp over the border in the sky and say, “Oh my Good god. Where are we?”
To which they would reply, “You are in Mexico. Also known as heaven.”