“A little road not made of man” — Emily Dickinson

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Kashchei the Immortal — Viktor Vasnetsov

It was about the commander of a death squad in El Salvador who falls in love with a nun he’s supposed to massacre (Nell Zink’s Mislaid)

Meg took advantage of Karen’s absence to start another play. It was about the commander of a death squad in El Salvador who falls in love with a nun he’s supposed to massacre. In the early drafts, they were a man and a woman. They were always in bed by act 1, scene 2, because they didn’t have much to say to each other.She decided to draft them as lesbians to make them more communicative. Afterward she could go back and change the death squad commander character to be male. But it didn’t work. The openhearted death squad commander refused to seem male to her.

She rewrote him as a man. Pouty and sarcastic. Instantly the nun became a solicitous bore. He ignored her. And there they were again, back in bed.

She tried again, establishing the female character first, in scenes with other nuns. Now the death squad commander seemed superfluous. She made him win her heart away from the nice nuns by being even nicer, but they were both so unsexy as affectionate chatterboxes, the love story just fell apart. They had to ignore each other to get anything done.

She tried one last time. She rewrote him as a complete jerk. Instead of falling in love with anybody, the commander said he would kill his own death squad to have sex with the nun. Afterward the nun went to bed with him to reward him. It was kind of sexy.

Meg saw a distinct pattern to it: patriarchy.

She had wanted to write about idealized partners. But the impressive men she had known weren’t anybody’s partner. They were lone wolves and dictatorial heads of families. The idea of partnering with a powerful man—well, it sounds nice enough, but even on paper it won’t fly. A novel ends with a wedding for a reason. Partnership is antidramatic. Partners are not adversaries. Partners don’t fuck. Yet she dreamed of loving a lesbian partner. Was she stupid?

Lee had been sexy to her at one time. But it wasn’t because they had a relationship. It was the opposite. Because they didn’t. And then she stupidly became his partner. She wasted her love on a wolf. What an excellent use of her youth and beauty! She glared at the typewriter, blaming it for her existential angst.

She finished the play with the nun sacrificing the other nuns one by one to protect the death squad commander from the revenge of his dead death squad’s death squad friends. She tore it into very small pieces and buried it deep in the trash can.

From Nell Zink’s novel Mislaid.

Mislaid is taking me a lot longer to get through than The Wallcreeper, maybe in large part because I’m reading it as an ebook, which means it’s competing with other stuff on my iPad that’s easier to read after a glass or two (or bottle or two) of red wine—Wittgenstein’s aphoristic Culture and Value, which I can squint at, or Netflix, which is also easier to read. But Mislaid is not uneasy to read at all—it’s good stuff—very very funny, pivoting into plots and places unexpected. The passage above stands on its own (I think), but also does a fair job summarizing (a part of the piece of an aspect of) the plot.

The Temptation of St. Anthony — Pieter Huys

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Watch A Day in the Afterlife, a 1994 documentary about Philip K. Dick

Pandora’s Box — Tsukioka Yoshitoshi

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Leaving School — Honore Daumier

Gubbish (Philip K. Dick)

They gubbled and gubbled. He put his hands to his ears, but the product crept up through his nose. Then he saw the place. It was where he wore out. They threw him away there, and gubbish lay in heaps up to his waist; gubbish filled the air.

“What is your name?”

“Steiner, Manfred.”

“Age.”

“Eighty­three.”

“Vaccinated against smallpox?”

“Yes.”

“Any venereal diseases?”

“Well, a little clap, that’s all.”

“V.D. clinic for this man.”

“Sir, my teeth. They’re in the bag, along with my eyes.”

“Your eyes, oh yes. Give this man his teeth and eyes before you take him to the V.D. clinic. How about your ears, Steiner?”

“Got ’em on, sir. Thank you, sir.”

They tied his hands with gauze to the sides of the bed because he tried to pull out the catheter. He lay facing the window, seeing through the dusty, cracked glass.

Outside, a bug on tall legs picked through the heaps. It ate, and then something squashed it and went on, leaving it squashed with its dead teeth sunk into what it had wanted to eat. Finally its dead teeth got up and crawled out of its mouth in different directions.

He lay there for a hundred and twenty­three years and then his artificial liver gave out and he fainted and died. By that time they had removed both his arms and legs up to the pelvis because those parts of him had decayed.

He didn’t use them anyhow. And without arms he didn’t try to pull the catheter out, and that pleased them.

I been at AM­WEB for a long time, he said. Maybe you can get me a transistor radio so I can tune in Friendly Fred’s Breakfast Club; I like to hear the tunes, they play a lot of the old­time favorites.

Something outside gives me hay fever. Must be those yellow flowering weeds, why do they let them get so tall?

I once saw a ballgame.

For two days he lay on the floor, in a big puddle, and then the landlady found him and called for the truck to bring him here. He snored all the way, it woke him up. When they tried to give him grapefruit juice he could only work one arm, the other never worked again ever. He wished he could still make those leather belts, they were fun and took lots of time. Sometimes he sold them to people who came by on the weekend.

“Do you know who I am, Manfred?”

“No.”

“I’m Arnie Kott. Why don’t you laugh or smile sometimes, Manfred? Don’t you like to run around and play?”

As he spoke Mr. Kott gubbled from both his eyes.

“Obviously he doesn’t, Arnie, but that’s not what concerns us here anyhow.”

“What do you see, Manfred? Let us in on what you see. All those people, are they going to live there, is that it? Is that right, Manfred? Can you see lots of people living there?”

He put his hands over his face, and the gubble stopped.

“I don’t see why this kid never laughs.”

Gubble, gubble.

Another passage from Philip K. Dick’s novel Martian Time-Slip.

I find the passage’s rhetorical construction remarkable—the “he” whose consciousness we dip into here, briefly, is Manfred Steiner, an “autistic” child with precognitive abilities. The narrative here takes us into the (a?) future (maybe?) for a few sentences, before pivoting back into the novel’s “present” (1994!) with the verbal intrusion of Kott. This little episode ends a chapter, and the next begins with close attention to Kott’s perception of Manfred. I’ve provided some context here, but I think the little passage also stands on its own as a strange flight into breakdown.

Girl Reading on a Divan — Ceri Richards

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Spirits will hover over the ashes (Wittgenstein)

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From Culture and Value.

The Cigarette — Fernand Khnopff