Sunday, 26 July 2009

The Horrible Truth

Blankety Blank: A Memoir of Vulgaria
By D. Harlan Wilson

D. Harlan Wilson wrote Blankety Blank: A Memoir of Vulgaria. A serial killer comes to suburbia. In good postmodern fashion (shout out, Giorgio Agamben, Zygmunt Bauman) the killer is a rational extrapolation of the suburban system, not an exception to it.

When D. Harlan Wilson wrote Blankety Blank: A Memoir of Vulgaria it was like, OK: why bring that up now. Because in “Room” (The Kafka Effect, 2001), approximately the same author pointed out: “Room fulla bureaucrats, managers ... tomboys, oafs ... [it goes on for a few pages, mentioning everything] ... sociobiologists, sociopaths ... loners ... chin ... collectors and resellers ... mean and nasty and wild and crazy packrats, and an invisible man made visible by a suit of human skin standing by himself in a corner blinking into the maelstrom and then scanning the whitewalls of the room, just one more time, for doors that are not there”, and what’s to add? What’s to add to that succinct bitterbitter, blankety-blank sentiment? What’s to add that hasn’t been INB4ed by the OP “saturnalia-nailed-on-a-skatepark” gris-gris freize-freak you love to hate to hate to love, ladies and brutalmen, the one, the only, the Other, Late- a.k.a. Techno- a.k.a. POSTCAPITALISM?

Some of us have been seeing if, next, we can throw up through our best friend – stuff like that. Bringing up the postcapitalist maelstrom is a bit like bringing up the Holocaust. Can’t we just forget about it, i.e. deny it ever happened? You say head in the sand, I say taking the fight to the sand. A serial killer comes to suburbia. You can’t kip-up from life itself. WRITHE WHERE YOU BELONG, BEING.

A brief history of the Cafca Effect

Franz Kafka’s illustrious communiqué that the “exceptions listed in §2 of the classification regulations frequently provide the inspectors’ assessments with a legal justification to oppose the Insitute’s classification. The application of §2 in the current classification system must rely on the passage regarding revision of the risk categories as specified on p. 119 of the Amtliche Nachrichten of 1909. This section states that only certain types of commercial enterprises may be considered suitable for the application of §2, as well as a limited kind of low-energy engines” (letter to the Minister of the Interior, Summer 1911) says it all.

What’s to add?

Definition of maelstrom

Noun. Rarely malström, malstrøm. Pl. maelstaaaaargh!

1. A very powerful whirlpool; a large, swirling body of water. A free vortex, it has considerable downdraft. The Nordic word was introduced into English by Edgar Allan Poe in his story “A Descent into the Maelström” (1841). Probably derived from the Dutch maelstrom (in modern Dutch, maalstroom). The Netherlands was one of the earliest countries to succumb to (slash, become emparadised by) capitalism, and also the locus of the first truly modern financial crisis: the tulips bubble. Financial bubbles stretch out over the ether to a grand thought dirigible. But what image floats therein? Is it just a chick?

2. A metaphor for the way in which postcapitalism confronts individuals. Although in fact you are caught in a conjunction of currents which have no necessary relationships with one-another, you experience a monstrous integrated environment, seemingly bent on your captivity and destruction. Tossed devastatingly to and fro, the more you lose track of absolute position and orientation, and the nature of body and identity, the less convincing you find the vulgar postmodern maxim that such things are illusions.


Shutting your eyes to the horrible truth lets you dream about it.

“... Basically,” says D. Harlan Wilson (hereafter “Doc”), “irrealism combines a dreamlike aesthetic with an absurdist sentimentality—that’s how I always explain it. I also deploy techniques and rudiments from several other genres (e.g., absurdism, science fiction, fantasy, horror, splatterpunk, literary fiction, postmodernism). These are all fairly broad terms that encompass a wealth of styles and narrative ingredients. In the last few years, my writing has fallen into the category of ‘Bizarro.’ This is also a broad term that might be quantified as the literary equivalent to a cult film. In light of my preoccupation with media forces and technocapitalist violence, however, probably the most apt title of all for my writing is ‘Avant-Pop.’ According to hyperartist Mark Amerika in his Avant-Pop Manifesto, ‘Avant-Pop artists themselves have acquired immunity from the Terminal Death dysfunctionalism of a Pop Culture gone awry and are now ready to offer their own weirdly concocted elixirs to cure us from this dreadful disease (“information sickness”) that infects the core of our collective life.’ Plain and simple, right? In the end, I guess I’m as confused as anybody about what I write. But I like writing it ... I’m extremely interested in dreams on a personal and theoretical level—where dreams come from, how they inform our lives, how they interpret experience, the stories they tell, what they indicate about brain function, etc. Dreams are essentially an instance of raw imagination at work, and the assertion and exploration of the imagination is of seminal importance to me, both as a writer and reader ...” (interview in Pif Magazine).

One similarity between dreams and Blankety Blank is a properly Kafkaesque atmosphere of stonewalling and unforthcomingness. Kafka’s shit so cash. Worlds of meaning are violently torqued around undisclosed “fetish object” gravity wells while behaving enormously embarrassed about the whole thing.

This kind of unenthusiastic and bureaucratic “negative destiny” is remniscent of The Crying of Lot 49: “‘It is at about this point in the play that things really get peculiar, and a gentle chill, an ambiguity, begins to creep in among the words […] a new mode of expression takes over. It can only be called a kind of ritual reluctance” (Thomas Pynchon).

This same quality sometimes enters OMG my dreams. It tends to happen whenever a dream puts its entire illusion in jeopardy, by developing demands upon its characters to act more – well, “humanly.” I mean, I think there can be a kind of revalatory element to living in a world peopled by other minds, a dimension of surprise and emergent complexity. Something which cannot be convincingly emulated by a single mind relating to itself via an ensemble of finger puppets. So whenever events in a dream conspire to disclose that limitation, the ritual reluctance intervenes to divert and distract. Otherwise, all the little brains in the muffin tin must rise rhizomically and merge and Lara must awake.

That’s what (to take another phrase of Doc’s) “The Dream People” are like – strange, pseudo-differentiated creatures, ever-ready to morph to new functions, secluded behind a veil of evasiveness, superintended by something large, secret and shocking.

But the obscurity which Blankety Blank tries to penetrate (or at any rate, introduce into the dance of its eye flaws) is this – real people have become like people in dreams.


Another smidge of Pynchon, BTW, Blankety Blank reminds me of is the opening of Vineland, in which Zoyd Wheeler somewhat wearily carries out his annual rite (it’s a local media spectacle too) of dressing in drag, acquiring a chainsaw and leaping through a plate-glass window. This keeps him in mental disability cheques for another year: obv. this special day is from a certain POV the one day of the year on which Zoyd is sane enough to “work” as a productive member of society. There’s a character in Blankety Blank who compulsively throws himself from a window, one of the many instances in the book of mechanical behaviours unaccountably imposed on human life. Even more than of the Pynchon bit though, it reminds me of Chris Morris’s Jam sketch on the topic. Jam includes some very good satire on what you might call the UK’s “propertied interest” – here a meticulous expose of middle class ruthlessness and self-loathing, here a rather sweet expose of underclass bafflement and slavishness (can’t find the link just now but it is rather sweet I promise). In a way it’s a pity Chris Morris wasn’t born an American, since then he’d be dead and we wouldn’t have to know.

Spoiler alert

Blankety Blank: A Memoir of Vulgaria. Parts hereafter are quite spoiler-ish. So if you want the gist, it is: buy this product, in fact don’t just buy this product, buy every product!

Zero-dimensional man

“An irreality TV show was being filmed outside the entrace. Rutger had seen the show before. He couldn’t remember its name. It might have been ‘The Show.’ He recognized the main character. He was the only character – an expressionless, nondescript male in his late 50s who traveled to different strip malls around Michagan, stood against their pseudobrick walls and, once an hour, on the hour, droned, ‘This is real.’ Intermittently he said, ‘This is reality,’ and it was the task of the audience, over the course of a month, to determine how many times the protagonist tacked on an ity word to the word real and precisely where and why those aberrations took place in the temporal scheme of things. To do so successfully resulted in the breaking of a code that rutger had always found to tedious to waste time on. But he had to admit liking the show. He liked it almost as much as staring at praying mantises.” Blankety Blank: A Memoir of Vulgaria, by Doc, pg. blankety blank.

Real people have become like people in dreams. Crash zoom, cymbal crash. Yes, in Blankety Blank, the characters are as deep as the scum that covers the surface of the poisoned water feature at the centre of the suburban community – and this illicit and derivitive quality extends even to their reviews. From the town hall pulpit to the last cracked commode lex leks and Zweckrationalität runs amok. Put your little Lego crescent in mine. But lives in Vulgaria are stacked less like Lego than like Luxco portfolios – malevolent, horny and barely there. If there were a Dramatis Personae it would list the characters’ desires, not their names. Haggling, which overtly dominates one early episode, is a good template for most of the memoir’s interactions. There is gusto and imagination in haggling – but it’s all in the sick, sundazed and saddened pursuit of gain.

The thin characterisation is not simply “good writing disguised as bad writing.” In a strong sense, it is “bad writing.” It is writing which is bad because life itself is badly written.

Quality is violently reduced to quantity. Your vein, if you know your stuff, rises hissing from your forehead like the cobra from her basket – Jürgen Habermas, in a drunken swing at postmodernist irrationalism, hypothesises an “unlimited communication community,” but against this (actual proper) theory, postmodernism can posit a quasi-noumenal “unlimited haggling community,” in which communicative action is steered by fear of boredom, and of the violent restructuring of identity by haggard and mercenary rhetoricians. “Why can’t I find a girlfriend? I don’t understand. Maybe they’re scared by all the multiple orgasms they have when they have sex with me – that it will leave their mind a shuddering husk?” is practically “hi” in Vulgaria – “emotion” in is either an embarrassingly transparent ploy, or good inspiration for such a ploy. It always gets product-recalled by tranquillity. A porn medley with the sex cut out. The Vulgarian id plagiarises structures of economic interest in its wretched efforts to avoid enforced redundancy at quarterly review. When we can afford a McMansion, shall we fall in McLove?


To say that real people “have become” like people in dreams, or that irreality “has replaced” reality, is a bit of a cheat – it harks back to a fabled golden era.

But this level is stupidly hard, so it’s OK to use cheats. It’s questionable whether we can ever rid ourselves of all that harking.

Alive, alone and alike

There are two linked features of modernity which may explain why real people are becoming more like people in dreams.

The first feature is atomisation. With the industrial revolution (you know: The Spinning Jenny, poi, Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf in digital 3D, Beowulf ringtones etc.) greater social and geographic mobility has loosened people from their traditional communities. This atomisation goes hand-in-hand (actually, probably prefers not to touch cuz of cooties) with isolation, alienation, pathological individualism and anomie (the last word is Emile Durkheim’s, basically meaning a lack of beliefs about how to behave or what to care about).

The second feature is homogeneity. As we know each other less, we have to become more alike just to maintain basic social order. The diffuse imperative to be categorized and predictable grows stronger – where once we had chicken soup for the soul, now we have zombie semen for the CV (Zygmunt Bauman talks a lot about homogeneity in this sense under the rubric of “the stranger in our midst”).

From zero to Nero®

Studies in the 1950s showed that dreams were predominantly black-and-white. As colour media became more widespread, dreams gradually seemed to colorise.

This sounds like one of the kooky lies from one of Doc’s “short history of” interludes, but it’s not.

“According to cave drawings, it is believed that Yen-shu Phrase (d.o.b. unknown), a Chinese barber, proto-human, and member of the Yicfung clan, experienced the first coherent dream. The dream was simple. A jar of baby pickled sat on a table .... Phrase awoke. Crabby and fatigued, he told his family and peers about his experience. They neither believed nor understood him.” Blankety Blank: A Memoir of Vulgaria, by Doc, pp. blankety blank to blankety blankety blank blank blank.

The lovely, lovely, lovely Eric Schwitzgebel has a paper all about the apparent “colourisation” of dreams. He argues that the ingredients of dreaming are not uniquely elusive to memory and language. Instead, “we are pervasively and grossly mistaken about our own conscious experience”.

So on one level, we tend to incorporate the most ubiquitous or advanced technologies into our theories about our minds. Cyberpunk tended to conceive of the mind computationally. Descartes had a hydraulic vibe. Ug and Grok developed a theory of mental content in which compresent tropes are cudgelled into squits of a multiply-realisable “concept jelly,” and their central controversy was: is the mind more rock-like or branch-like?

But what Schwitzgebel says implies something more fundamental. Not only the theories we bring to bear on experience, but the nature of that experience itself (including what we do and don’t count as “technology”), down to something as apparently self-founding as the colour of dreams, depends on what technologies pervade our universe. My dreams, for example, now have a chat window, which I have disabled.

It’s this more fundamental level which Doc explores. Who are we? We are, tautologically, “ourselves.” But for Doc, and his co-doxa, the “self” changes with the hour. “The self and technology are not independent of one another; they are co-dependent,” Doc muses, “and if technology were to somehow be transcended or extracted from the self, the self would cease to exist. In this way, the boundary that separates nature and culture collapses as technology (generally considered a cultural formation) is a natural part of the (post)human condition. Any expression of nostalgia for nature is problematic …” (Technologized Desire, p. 27).

In Doc’s approach, technology is not just whatever blips and whirrs the brightest and loudest. It’s a broader concept – as Donna Haraway 5.44 points out, “Our best machines are made of sunshine; they are all light and clean because they are nothing but signals, electromagnetic waves, a section of a spectrum, and these machines are eminently portable, mobile …” (Cyborg Manifesto, OMG). Very loosely speaking, the technologies Blankety Blank focuses on are the economic, cultural, and psychological ones – technologies like the dinner party, the fitness regime.

Emancipatory traces

The mammoth silo which Rutger has built in his back yard – the phallic, rustic, conspicuously-consumptive folly, with its peculiar association with music (the construction workers who build it all play musical instruments – compare some of the stuff I say in (1) Prosody), and its unmissable insinuation of theology a la Babel and post-Babel (e.g. William Golding’s The Spire, Ted Chiang’s “Tower of Babylon”, Square Enix’s The Final Fantasy Legend) – that silo is surely one such problematic expression of nostalgia for nature.

I’ve been hinting that Blankety Blank doesn’t just bear witness to suburban postcapitalism, but is in some sense critical of it. In other words, this book is broadly a satire. It’s tricky to say just where its criticism begins and ends, especially since the postcapitalism setting comes with a certain amount of, as it were, prepackaged critical motifs. To say that people are atomised and homogenised is to make a not-that-tacit critical statement.

Plus, there have long been fierce and interesting disagreements about the limit conditions of criticism, and particularly over the question of whether it’s possible to criticise something without providing a better alternative to it (nostalgic or not). My hunch – a lot of people have this hunch – is that criticism can’t help evoking some alien ingredient, some thing drawn from outside its subject matter. If it thinks it can avoid it (say by using only satirical exaggerations and enlargements, or some kind of careful immanent critique) it tends to develop subterranean dogmatisms.

Since criticism can’t help evoking it, it does well if it pays attention to it and shaping it in some way, but this might not mean turning it into a full-blown “better alternative.” It might mean attenuating it and degrading it, making it frail and unconvincing. It might mean turning it into that postmodern favourite, the “trace.”

If everything is meaningless, why is there the concept of meaning? If the Doc’s “short history” interludes demonstrate that the line between fact and fiction is blurred or nonexistant, why does the reader experience them as provocative mixtures of fact and fiction?

Again in good postmodern fashion, there is no sameness here without différance, no equivalence without violent historical exclusion, no neutrality without it being wrapped around a steaming stick of bias-dynamite, no unfurnished, whitewashed bungalow bedroom without, shall we say, a certain degree of reality haddock immured by its thoughtful former occupant – and the river of “blankety blank” flowing through the memoir is silvered by at least three such reality haddocks: (1) euphemism; (2) the long-running British gameshow “Blankety Blank”; (3) prosody. In the words of Immanence, “Oh no. I farted. My wart. Darted. Back to the garden to start the countdown.”

(3) Prosody

Blankety Blank is encapsulated in the counterfeit thought of Paul Di Filippo, “[l]ike Paul Di Filippo meets Paul Di Filippo . . . on The Bell Jar serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors covermount!”

The memoir is mostly written in short, avuncular sections – shades of Kurt Vonnegut. Many of these are potted histories of this or that, emphasis on the pot. Also definitions, Confucian analects, aphorisms, and some extremely choice quotations (“I’m sorry I killed five people, ok?” – Gary Allen Walker, Serial Killer).


Reminds me of the epigraph to a Steve Aylett novel, George Appel’s soundbyte from his electric chair: “Well, gentlemen, you are about to see a baked Appel.” Something else Doc shares with Aylett, BTW, is the prominence of reviled orators . . . though Aylett’s tend to be sash-eyed liches who are after transcendence through affront, whereas Doc’s Gamehater, for example, is truly dismayed by his hostile receptions. Haterz can’t be playaz.

Where were we and who are we

Breezily high concept comedy (“What if Patrick Swayze was an initiate of deconstruction?”) with a brazenly low budget. This is the kind of book you’d forward to your friends. Mark Leyner has a sort of running joke: what if we really thought in the terms suggested by corporate advertising and government policy? This premiss becomes amazingly fruitful in Leyner’s writing. By taking at face value the invasive and near-invincible culture (red in truth and law) which encompasses and composes us, he repeatedly shows that we already know the kind of lie it is. Leyner’s deadpan acceptance of spin and hype seems to demonstrate that ideology critique isn’t good enough – at least, that it tells us little that’s new. We already know that the pantheon of nobheads who occupy aspirational discourse are all injured parties themselves – despairing, near-suicidal wretches – and that the native population of normalising discourse all feel like immolated freaks. Something similar pops up in Doc’s work (which is a good thing, since Leyner seems to be on a loooong time-out), though the premiss is less “what if we really were what culture supposes us to be?” than it is “what if the things which culture supposes to be important really were important”?


“In the wake of recent revelations concerning Margaret B. Jones’s memoir ‘Love and Consequences’ and Misha Defonseca’s ‘Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years’ the disclosure that Mr. Kafka’s work was based on reality has embarrassed editors and scholars.

“’I’ve been teaching “The Metamorphosis” for years, said a professor of literature at Princeton, who insisted that he be identified as P. ‘I’ve called it one of the most sublime pieces of literature ever written. Elias Canetti called it “one of the few great and perfect poetic works written during this century.” To find out that it’s actually true is devastating.’

“The actual condition of Kafka’s neighbor, a Prague salesman who didn’t return our calls or e-mail messages requesting comment, is known as entomological dysplasia, and is somewhat rare. It results in the development over time of a hard carapace, a segmented body and antennas.”

-- Mark Leyner, New York Times, March 9 2008

(3) Prosody

So although Blankety Blank has an affinity with proto-postmodern proto-anti-novels like Jonathan Swift Tale of a Tub and Lawrence Sterne’s Tristam Shandy and (where most of the “story” is digression), and with contemporary roving, docufictionary maximalism, or “hysterical realism” by the likes of of Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace, the more obvious comparison is with “stuff you find on the Internet” – think “content provision,” think memes, blogosphere, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Onion, all the belle lettres of the era of value-add reverie.

People tell me Bizarro really lends itself to the short form. But me, I’m often disappointed by wee absurdist set-pieces – which justify being not-very-good by being not-very-long. Their “weirdness” can be little more than a passive-aggressive refusal of all valuation criteria, but it’s usually pretty obvious which bits are the good bits, if any.

More bang for my buck, less lassitude for my vicissitudes ... it’s strange that such a formally permissive book doesn’t give much sense of splurge. Admittedly, there are a few sections, mostly towards the end, where I found myself wanting to take Occam’s Blunt Instrument to Doc and his book. And the slapstick injuries disrupt the tautness with queasy bodily cacophany (as per usual – who here can honestly say they haven’t uncertainly thumbed a residue of gristle from the SimCopter they left playing on their iPod Touch?). But for the most part, you get the impression of mad skills on Windows Paint, not Adobe Photoshop. There’s great economy of expression. The bright bald triangular green head of the book’s pet praying mantis is its superlatively representative phenomenon, the phenomenon all its other phenomena aspire to, and the one you’ll dust from its cooling embers after it explodes. Keith Loutit’s breathtaking Metal Heart is the book’s perfect cinematic correlate. The frequently clipped and direct style is apt, in light of the meanness and narrowness of so much Vulgarian experience. The memoir’s dedication is “for me.” You get a sense of Doc as chiropractor, briskly fondling himself gauntlets from the reader’s inner chitin. You get a sense of computer gaming – left to their own devices, the characters would get up to jaded, capricious fidgets that resembling the idle animation loops of point-and-click performers. Except a bit more trepanny. Their temperments resemble the mood indelibly carved into the heads of platformer heroes – Mario’s resoluteness, for example.

They say Charles Dickens rejected a submission by Laman Blanchard entitled “Orient Pearls at Random Strung” with the terse “Dear Blanchard, too much string – Yours, C. D.” I would have gone with “It’s made out of cum!”; the problem of the interconnection of microcontent. What grouts together the petite triumphs, with their assorted conceits and other raisons d’ être? Or can they really all be jiggled together each flush to some others’ edges?

There are nods in the grouting (an allusion to the long-running British horror / sci-fi show Nods in the Grouting?) to the thick anthropological detail of late Victorian realism – the cumulative creation of a solid and consistent world out of the various interesting episodes which occur within it – but they are only nods, and they are also along to the heavily-fuzzboxed totalising roar of Empire-paranoia metal. Then there is the moment-by-moment improvisation of interest which is the gist of slapstick. But I think prosody – the rhythm, stress, intonation, and all the musical contours of language – is Doc’s best answer.

People say “tum ti tum ti tum ti tum” when they’re scanning a line of verse, or “doot dee doot doot doopy doop doop” when they can’t remember the next line of a song, a bit like “blankety blankety blankety blank”. Prosody can be a kind of lender of last resort for the global economy of meaning. Its fidelity to living occurs at the level of mimesis of breath and pulse, borbyrigmus and the shift of sweaty balls and breasts.

“Sometimes, when Rutger Van Trout walked through the hallways of his McMansion, he could feel the blankety blankety blank blankety blank blank blankety bank blank blank blank blank beneath him. So he built a silo, and he climed to the top. The blankety blankety blank blankety blank blank blankety blank blank blank blank blank didn’t go away. At least now his feet weren’t so close to it. He couldn’t stay up here forever, though. Hewould have to devise other means of coming to terms with the blankety blankety blank blankety blank blank blankety blank blank blank blank blank. Something to divert his attention, perhaps. Or rather, something to keep his eye on the ball.

“Mr. Van Trout looked down from the silo. Shielding their eyes, his neighbors looked up at him as their children obliterated entire communities of unsuspecting insects with blow torches.

“He lifted his eyes and looked at the skyline.”

(2) Wogan & his wand

A few slight scraps of optimistic otherness waft through Blankety Blank. Prosodic grace is one. The silo is another. Maybe sports. The possibility of a loving family unit seems to be another, or perhaps, more problematically and less conservatively, the possibility of children. Yet sprogs are not romanticised in any way. They are chips off the old block – “... their children buside themselves in driveways with magnifying glasses, burning anthills and vagabond beetles. A few children used miniature blowtorches. ... More neighbors gathered below, all of them wives or Mr. Moms and their kids. Children outnumbered adults now. There were hundreds of them. From the sky it looked like the street was on fire, flames humming and crackling over the din of insect screams” (15). Still, at least they glimpse life beyond the block. Hatred is another. Vulgaria has a superhero who, even if he sports compulsive malfunctions, and attracts nothing but heckles from his wards, is nonetheless rather promising – The Gamehater, whose creed is to hate the game not the player (that is roughly, to fight the postcapitalist system, not its individual moments (but to demonstrate how tough this is, imagine the reverse: “I can’t love you baby, but I’m totally crazy in love with segment of the social totality which corresponds to you, or if you prefer, with the intersection of discourses which constructs your identity”. In postcapitalism, the role of revolutionary is made pathological, inasmuch as diagnosing the enemy as a totality makes it necessary to withdraw your feelings from everything. Decathection is like nature’s hope)).

One fawned-upon irony, or paradox, or equivocation of postmodern thought involves an exception being a symptom of a norm. So Bauman, for example, rabbits on about how Auschwitz was not an aberration, but a logical effect of a system that was and still is. And Agamben has all this stuff about how the state of emergency became business as usual in the Bush era and beyond. We’re not really talking about principles or laws here – it’s a motif, and its truth depends entirely on its application (and I think Adorno and Schmitt respectively have similar but better things to say about Bauman and Agamben’s topics). Regrowing Hydra heads also have an important place in postmodernism. “Perfecting” one system creates problems elsewhere, like trying to squeeze air out of a rubber dinghy only everybody’s suffering and dying because of it.

Existent order is like a scab you can’t help picking only everyone’s suffering and dying because of it. In consequence there grows a yearning for almost any order that presents itself as spontaneous, transcendent, or exported from without. This yearning is part of the picking, though somehow, nebulously, a unique part of the picking.

I don’t know if Doc has ever seen the gameshow “Blankety Blank,” but here goes anyway.

The contestants take turns to fill in the blanks: “My son was a juggler until he dropped his ______”; but instead of a pre-arranged “factual” answer, the answer is generated in the miniature social reality of a panel of six.

One point is earned for each person on the panel who writes down “the same answer (or reasonably similar as determined by the judges), up to a maximum of six points for matching everyone.” In misleadingly-appropriated philosophical jargon, then, “Blankety Blank” features a coherence theory of truth, not a correspondence theory of truth.

What makes this show even more pressingly vital for our salvation is that (1) the panel is made up of celebrities, who are, in their weird way, wretched and regurgitated Everymen, each a savage composite garble of the desires of the demos, and (2) it peddles a very particular kind of shabby, linguistified eroticism, the eroticism of matrons and jubbly breasts, characterised by double entendre and a jaded cunning that is entirely at odds with sexual abandon. “To the thongs themselves” (Husserl).

If the viewer himself or herself doesn’t know the answer, an impression is contrived that the contestant and celebrities participate in a kind of spontaneous harmony, which somehow comes from outside of the show’s hegemony, which is the wrestling of fact and lacklustre lust.

“Revolts belong to history. But, in certain way, they escape from it” (Foucault). The heartstrings of several of Vulgaria’s inhabitants play a D chord at the prospect of such unaccountable set-pieces, of spontaneous order that is irreducible to sociological categories. Of a kind of political spirituality. Of the generative glamour associated with Rousseau’s lawgiver, Weber’s charismatic leader, Schmitt’s dictator, but imprinted onto a kind of monumental, diagrammatic arrangement of bodies. The kip-up late in the memoir, the “rape” kids earlier on.

(1) Euphemism & vulgaria

Blankety-blanx are of course also grawlixes.

Is there such a word as “fuck”? Or is the word “fuck” actually the word “fake”? How would Habermas pronounce it (a reference to his famous “unlimited communication community” thesis not his cleft palate! – Habermas is lovely and hates postmodernists like Doc!)? Is there such a word as “neo-cuntian”?

The townsfolk of Vulgaria go about in a sort of reverie or, taken by visions, stand frozen at their stations. The memoir has been rightly celebrated, by Di Filippo and others, as an awkward insistence upon the bongwater you try to call your blood. My final purpose with this review is to estimate the nastiness of its ass.

Offensive language causes “displeasure or resentment.” But this is practically the condition of all language in Vulgaria.

There is no word so extreme that it doesn’t refer you back to the established social hierarchy to determine its significance.

Envision the person of a little old lady. Not the vampish, worldly (nay galaxyly) “I-once-snogged-Hemingway” grand dame figure that is Lara’s certain destiny – she shall go unsuspected of her Satanic prank until it is quite, quite too late – but a sort of trite, two-dimensional “offensiveness metre” which has been handily callibrated for us and left at a Vulgaria bus stop. We christen her Mrs. Bourgeoisdom.

There is no reliable formula which will register the maximum jolt upon her kindly little cabbage. Perhaps you say (a) “Aren’t you people scared ... Of dying. Of being disembowelled. Of being murdered and peed on” (p. 82), and rack up only a slight sniff, and a new splurt of cumulonimbus capillatus incus in her twilight-crowded eyes. But perhaps the mild-seeming (b) “I have to take a leak” (p. 83) kindles a dramatic gasp of affront.

Breaking down the difference, we might suppose that the creepiness of (a) agitates, inside Mrs. Bourgeoisdom, some kind of ideological antibody into activity. The enquiry gets sealed in protective blandness mucus – converted into a generic specimin of “hmph! the upsetting nonsense of a nutcase” or “hmph! the confrontational attention-seeking of a nihilistic generation” – and its discrete components (fear, death, stomachs, murder, piss) gain no access to the complexes of experience which could have made them meatily meaningful for Mrs. Bella Bourgeoisdom. Whereas perhaps (b) slips under the crucial threshhold with all its pungent detail in full effect – coarse, vivid, improper – and the generalisations (“kids these days have no manners” etc.) make these details sharper and worse.

I only insist so passionately on the crap hypothetical dear because Doc is, pretty clearly, trying out marvellously sneaky blends of the humdrum and the nauseating. In this respect I think he contrasts a bit with another leading light of Bizarro, the reektastic Carlton Mellick III – whose limit-pushing is more often tacitly on behalf of supplicants of limitless horror and erotica.

The memoir offers “the uncanny” as a way of understanding its blend of transgressive and the everyday, but (a bit bewilderingly) I think this term might be a bit like one of Mrs. Bourgeoisdom’s inoculating balls of foam. It tidies things up, enrolls visceral unease in a Liberal Arts degree. Louis Althusser says, “The ultimate condition of production is the reproduction of the conditions of production,” or so I gather from the epigraph to a tale in The Kafka Effekt (one of the chapters of Blankety Blank, BTW, is called “Cause and Effekt”) – but this isn’t bring a friend day, Doc. I’m a bit confused.

I think Blankety Blank tells you you needn’t fear the New Puritan’s lockpick. First you have to kill your inner cop. Then you have to kill your inner politician, your psychiatrist, your inner doctor. Basically you’ll be left with your inner chiropractor. It’ll be a shit Identity (2003).

If I permanently renounce going around with a pole up my ass, how am I to smuggle the claymore into the true love waits fundraiser rodeo?

Well Doc, I trust our pus will cross again.

And what became of Rutger? Reader, I ramified him.

One last thing

Even were all this gavel-nuzzling to somehow spawn a revolution of everyday life – the salvation of suburban sprawl – it wouldn’t touch what matters.

“The guilt of a life which purely as a fact will strangle other life, according to statistics that eke out an overwhelming number of killed with a minimal number of rescued, as if this were provided in the theory of probabilities -- this guilt is irreconcilable with living” (Adorno, Negative Dialectics).

“The War Against Being Mean is forty-eight years old as of today. To celebrate its birthday, the President has ordered a suprise nuking of New Nigeria twelve. Every time we nuke it, it just keeps coming back, but in the words of the President, ‘Killin’ feels G-U-D.’” (D. Harlan Wilson, Blankety-Blank: A Memoir of Vulgaria).


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