More Pixels to the Inch
More Pixels to the Inch
Thomas Hartl reviews Ron Sukenick’s
Words to avoid because of their excessive theoretical freight: “signifier,” “symbolic,” “text,” “textual,” and then “being,” and then finally all words, and this would still not suffice, for since words cannot be constituted as a totality, the infinity that traverses them could never be captured by a substracting operation; it is irreducible by reduction. Maurice Blanchot
Exod. 4:11 And the LORD said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD? Exod. 4:11 Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.
The legend unreels. What’s the story here, the word, the gospel? You must have faith. Faith in your reading. Faith in your thinking. Faith in not suspending disbelief. Believe in your disbelief. In fiction, in language, everything is possible. Anything can happen. Anything be said and written. This is right in your face. For your eyes only. Your mirror on the wall. Your handwriting. We all are what we are, and the world is a feeling.
You know what? Moses was a lonely man. A loony loner. Baloner. “Slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” (Exod. 4:10). Led the Israelites out of Egypt and with a hoarse, frightening mouth and an awful lisp delivered the Law during their years of wandering in the desert of the real/reel, with God the Almighty sitting there in the back of that judicial mouth. Thou shalt not this. Thou shalt not that. Moses never uttering “his own” words, but always already and “solely” a mediation, a facsimile, a xerox, a simulacrum of the “real” word that was in the beginning (i.e., endlessly deferred and unintelligible). In the beginning was the wor(l)d. Irreducible by reduction. Amen. The desert, not only for the Israelites, turned into the book (Edmond Jabès). The Book of Life. Now, our desert is the hyperreality that is constantly being rained upon by endlessly circulating and shifting simulacra and signifiers. Drained of origin(al)s. But the spectral, possessed voice of Moses, this ghost in our machines and on our hard disks, can still be heard in the desert of our real. Broken, echoed, distorted. E.g., MTV. Mosaic Textual Voice. Delivering Mosaic Law. Transmitting Mosaic Bug. Infecting reason. An infected mouth, seduced, broken, as are his tablets. A speech impediment in consequence of a piece of live coal that he yearned to swallow as a child. Poor loudmouthed fellow. Mosaic logorrhea.
Now, what’s this Law? Mosaic Law? In his third novel, 98.6 (1975), in a section tellingly entitled “Palestine,” the Reb Sukiennik specifies [Ron learns from a lexicographer in Warsaw that sukno “is a kind of fine, woolen cloth used for overcoats” and that a ” sukiennik is one who makes it” (109-10). The Reb is our cloth-maker, our text-weaver. He will henceforth only be referred to in his cloned version as Reb Suk]: “the law of mosaics or how to deal with parts in the absence of wholes” (Sukenick, 98.6 167). The absence of holes. ‘Cause everything is. God is. “I am that I am.” We is. No verbal post-script, no facsimile will do to clear the field. Epistemology is short-circuited, put into the abyss, mis-en-abyme, turned back on itself in an opaque and perfect circle that will never be broken. This circle was created by breaking the tablets. Hence secret codes abound. No Rosetta Stone around. No solution to be found. The various sections in the Torah were not given in their correct order by Him. For then any schmuck could wake the dead and create golems: “Thus, the magical potentialities of the Torah were intentionally concealed by God in order to allow the common path of life not to be disturbed by the transmission of the code for extraordinary operations” (Idel 242-43). The grains of sand in the desert silent: “The gap. The blank space the clean slate. Where the terror is. And where dreams condense like clouds in an empty sky. Civilization comes down to a man staring at an empty page” (Sukenick, 98.6 171). A book, a text, that changes like a cloud as it goes along. Reb Steiner speaks of “an unhoused at-homeness in the text” (5). Like the people of the text, the tribe of the alphabet, the text itself is “not rooted but millennially equipped with legs” (19).
Mosaic Man, Reb Suk’s (textual) universe, or better yet: multiverse, pluriverse, omnivorous omniverse, is a cosmopolic cosmolingual cosmoverbal cosmicomic chaosmos or mosaicked mosaic with a plethora of legs, a monstrous and hilarious centipede of a golemic book. Reb Suk’s life, you say, accordingly, an endlessly long story whose episodes derive as much from the unpredictable currents of his mind and the prurient provokers of his body as from the cryptic trivia of the quotidian - the dark flood of experience that encompasses us all. The ebb and flow of the ocean of life in the permanence of the here and now, where background and foreground are constantly changing and turning into and on each other, contact boundaries shifted every single second. This is Reb Suk’s Gestalt Writing Program, his “science of comparative experience” (Sukenick, Down and In 7), in which “all issues resolve in the here and now” (Mosaic Man 171). And it is a healing program. The Reb novels the novel by constantly recombining and repercussing words. Moses never set foot on the promised land, he died on the wrong side of the Jordan in a (French?) kiss off the divine lips of the One. Reb Suk’s homeland is a country from which he is permanently exiled: “Whoever writes is exiled from writing, which is the country - his own - where he is not a prophet” (Blanchot 63).
Now “real to reel” and “straight to the bull’s eye of reality” (22): What’s his story? For decades, Professor Sukenick has been a central figure both in contemporary “postmodern” literature and on the publishing scene, untiringly promoting off-mainroad, non-corporate, committed innovations in writing and publishing. He hit the hot lit scene in 1968 with his first novel Up, published by Swallow Press, an instant success and representative of a new trend in U.S. fiction at that time. Many isms and schisms have since been tested out and applied: “postmodernist,” “surfictionist,” “post-contemporary,” “post-realist,” “meta-fictional,” “real fictitious,” “pomo-auto-bio,” “avant-bio,” “avant-poppish,” “experimental” (Prof Suk’s fav), whatever, you name it. (Add your word-shtick here: _____________.)
Now, since the mid-1970s, after the publication of two other influential early books, The Death of the Novel and Other Stories in 1969 and > Out in 1973, the professor has continued to have an important impact on contemporary literature and culture in various roles (yep, playgiarized that from you out there, Larry). His is a cultural and socio-political commitment that has gone strong over a long time now, and there are still no signs of compromise on the horizon. Professor Sukenick Was An Advisor For PMLA (which is the title of his next film script, the flick probably directed by Rod Drackenstein). Since 1977, he publishes a book review magazine, the American Book Review, “in response to the absence of informed review attention to literary, cultural and minority press books in the commercial mass circulation reviewing media” (press release), and since 1989 edits a litmag specializing in innovative fiction, Black Ice. He used to be head of an organization that supported and represented all the literary magazines in the country, CCLM. He teaches in the creative writing program of the University of Colorado. He teaches courses in publishing. He was director of the Publications Center at the University of Colorado.
With avant-writers Jonathan Baumbach, Steve Katz, Peter Spielberg, and Mark Mirksy, the prof was one of the founding members of the Fiction Collective in 1974, an author-administered and -edited “ ‘not-for-profit’ cooperative conduit for quality fiction, the first of its kind in this country, in which writers make all business decisions and do all editorial and copy work” (Sukenick cited in McCaffery, “The Fiction Collective” 109) at a time when “large publishing houses were already closing their doors to a great many weird and challenging writers” (Bérubé 190). The Fiction Collective was rebooted in upgraded form in 1988 as FC2 by Professor Sukenick and Curtis White, and has since in particular helped innovative gay/lesbian/bi and feminist/post-feminist writers to get their texts published. In 1993, FC2 launched its new series, Black Ice Books, which is specifically tailored for an “alternative mass market” (low price, portable format, paperback editions), introducing readers to what the professor and Larry McCaffery describe as the Avant-Pop, i.e., writing that exploits and simultaneously subverts the forms and models of popular culture. Sukenick’s Doggy Bag and his magnum popus Mosaic Man are excellent samples of the A-P.
Professor Sukenick probed into Ron’s/Ronnie’s (that is “Ronald Sukenick” and not Ronald Sukenick) pseudo-autobiographical adventures in New York City’s Lower East Side and the academe in Up (1968), the metafictional possibilities of short fiction in The Death of the Novel and Other Stories (1969), dished up alphabet soup and sent his fluid consciousness out west driven by the hope generated by the 1960s in > Out (1973), painted a rather bleak but nonetheless funny picture of that hope-and-euphoria-for-a-new-society gone sado-maso in 98.6 (1975), sang the academic-gone-hermit blues in Long Talking Bad Conditions Blues (1979), conceived wordbombs exploding into meaning in The Endless Short Story (1986), conjured up the Hollywood movie scene as a shaman in Blown Away (1986), and most recently pushed short fiction through the Avant-Pop grinder in his Doggy Bag (1994). And he has just finished a new novel “about” cows. Now, in Mosaic Man, the Professor for the first time in his literary career tunes entirely in to the Jewish side of the story/his story/stories/histories.
Autonomy and “not $ but jewish rules” (24). “In the beginning was the WORD which is unspeakable, unreadable and unintelligible. Beyond human perception” (9). This is Reb Suk’s Genesis (in the section “Genes”), these are the writer’s Genes. The WORD made world. The WORD in the world. Words in the WORD. Read: the Book of Life. Did the LORD speak the WOR(L)D in Hebrew? In a language which is unintelligible, according to our genesis, a language written in secret code? The Master Code? How to crack God’s Code? First step in Genes: A writing that is not yet language, pure information, generative. Second step in Genes: The word becomes metaphor, a story, genetic. Third step in Genes: The pictures are replicated, story becomes history, generic. Graven images, finally.
In number six of the section “Numbers,” aptly titled “How to Be Jewish” (and, if I am not mistaken, an earlier title for Mosaic Man) we learn that “Ron is a fundamentalist of the book. He believes that books should be literally true. It is only the literally true that is fundamentally mysterious” (105). The second step in Genes. Therefore, he is working on a book project with the title Wholly Book, i.e., “a book containing what he calls the collected conscious… His quixotic idea is that the collected conscious as the anti-body to the virus should be collected in a book that is wholly a book and not partly illusion” (105). The virus here is anti-Semitism, biogenetic mutation, the A-bomb, Hiroshima, epidemic self-interest, the frantic search for the Golden Calf. The Wholly Book is (maybe not so paradoxically but necessarily). A collection (“collected conscious”). A mosaic. So complex in its cross-references, multiple meanings, acronyms, homonyms, homophones, echoes, reverberations, built into its wor(l)ds that it is wholly. Holy. A book. An approximation of the Master Code. Gnomic. Created. Doven. This our gospel, go(d)spell, good news. We all know that the Torah was written in Secret Divine Code, God’s Code. Accordingly, the language in Mosaic Man is densly gnomic, i.e., salted with gnomes, i.e., short, pithy expressions of general truths, aphorisms. A gnomic writer, Reb Suk rewrites the “wisdom” poetry of the Bible. You know: “the only gospel / the hand writing” (38).
After the creation of the world and the word, what does it mean to be Jewish? What does it mean to be a Jew and a writer? A Jewish writer? A writing Jew? Reb Suk doesn’t need a rabbi to tell him he is Jewish. This we learn from an earlier version of the “Profits” section (in the second part of the book): “Equating Jewishness with religion was not his decision. With respect to the sacred, he prefers the profane. While he believes some things are holy, god is not one of them. Especially not god as the author of the book of life” (“How to Be Jewish” 390). The nonobservant Jew is pondering what it means to be Jewish, a label that others have forced him to accept as his own: “His destiny is not his own. He’s not himself today, nor any day. Why? Because he’s a Jew, in a word” (388). Reb Suk’s definition (too static and way too strong a word) of Jewishness is not that of any orthodoxy, of faith, of morals, but a constant and interminable probing of word and world, a repeated breaking of the tablets of all laws, so as to feel the pulse of the experiential which is the world. Reb Suk’s cover is as a novelist, but everything he writes is really in the service of the intelligence. Everything he writes is an intelligence report. This one is called Mosaic Man. As in The Y-Files. Freud didn’t invent the ID, he just dropped the Y. That is, Intelligence Department. Identification. Identity. Me. What’s your ID? Over the centuries, the pell-mell babel of words of the haggada seems to have entirely messed up the core of the halacha. That’s the magic of words, go(d)spell. Here’s some deconstruction for you. And Mosaic Man is Reb Suk’s millennially apocalyptic, post-holo-caustic, post-dia-sporic haggada to the Pentateuch, its shticky avant-popish midrash. A jew jitsued MTV clip (as in Moses Television) with accelerated klezmer frenzy as soundtrack (Giora Feidman meets Sonic Youth).
YHWH’s “I am that I am” transferred to Pop Eye the Sailorman’s “I yam what I yam.” Which is the operating system of the Jew, in a word: “And a word can change everything, whether you want it to or not. Not up to you. Or me. I’m not in control. No. I am who I am” (215). He is basically a Jew of the word, a Jew de mot, a jeu de mot. A gamble with no profits. A mask without a face. He is a recorder. He is us. Our invisible selves. In an on-line interview for george jr., Reb Suk comes to speak about the genre of the novel and traditional storytelling:
the idea of storytelling that we’ve inherited is not only partly Greek, but is also partly the Christian tradition coming out of the New Testament of parables and so on, as opposed to the Old Testament which is more like a whole panoply of narrative techniques. It includes something like parable but it also includes argument and catalog and a whole bunch of techniques. Poetry. And narrative sequence that has very little of the imitative in it.
This biblical mulligan stew of the Old Testament is part and parcel of Reb Suk’s own distinctive mosaic text, especially in the first part of his book entitled Testimony (also read: Testament), which is a take on the Old Testament’s five books of Moses: Genesis as Genes, Exodus as Ex/Ode, Leviticus as Umbilicus, Numbers as Numbers (sub-divided into six numbered parts), and Deuteronomy as Autonomy (sub-divided into four unnumbered parts). The Old Testament is thus reshuffled into a pomo-mosaic of a New Jewish Testimony. And, Hell, Reb Suk (henceforth RS) is damned good at it. Imitation has a more far-reaching implication than this analogy on the level of structuring might suggest. In an ingenious cut-and-paste operation, RS co-opts the deific prohibition of imitation for his own anti-realist poetics:
I personally, as a Jew, have a false start with the Greco-Christian tradition. Especially in view of the fact that in the Old Testament it’s quite clear that you’re not supposed to use mimesis. This is very central. It’s like the third commandment or something like that before… maybe it’s the second commandment, before you’re not supposed to kill your mother and father, you’re not supposed to imitate anything… And there’s a good reason for that because imitation is pagan. It’s idol worship. It’s substituting the idol, or the icon, if you want, of reality, for reality itself. And that’s wrong.
Exod. 20:4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. The Second Commandment against graven images comes right after YHWH declares himself the only God. The Jewish rule against imitation becomes Ron’s (also RS’s?) poetics in Mosaic Man: “He realizes that he simply doesn’t like the idea of making things up. It’s a children’s game. If he wants to make things up, he can work in Hollywood, preferably for Walt Disney.” Therefore, “he takes tales wholesale and tells them retail,” by making use of paper, fax messages, xerox, newspaper clips, floppy disks, audio tape, etc., in five words: his handwriting on the wall. This might convey the truth of the moment by constantly throwing fish overboard and drawing Moses out of the waters of history (cf. Exod. 2:10; the Hebrew/Hejew name Mosche can be related to the verb mascha, which means “to tear out of the water”). And it also ties in with resistance-writing in the face of multi-national publishing conglomerates as the
international-multiconglomerate culture operates in the currency of images, therefore it becomes important not to have an image. Once you have an image you’re caught in the conglomeration web, but if you avoid an image you’re still free to glide through the net. Lack of image keeps you mobile. (In an on-line interview with Mark Amerika)
Now what else, in a novel, is the world but language? This can be said about the book: It is (being) written: 1. The Book of Life is already out there, in the world, as a part of reality, as a part of everything that has been said and written so far (i.e., the handwriting on the wall); 2. it is written at the moment of reading by keeping track of the movements of the mind in motion (i.e., the hand writing on the wall). Have you noticed that numbers are an arbitrary system of oreganizing? Golden calfing?
In the end, the Jewish condition might only be another instance of the human condition, Jewishness distilled down to the condition of every single life-form, thereby dissolving the self-proclaimed pretension of the chosen race or the chosen few of many an orthodox Jew: “How many of you had the feeling that you’re from another world, not this one? That you’re someone else, not the person you’re supposed to be?” (15) And: “That must be the way it feels to be Jewish, and even if you think you’re not a Jew, if you’ve ever felt that way you may be Jewish too” (15-16). Me a Jew?
”$ = making it = cars sex food America - making it is losing it” (23). The first part of Mosaic Man comprises five sections and is a re-writing of the Pentateuch as “Testimony,” not as Testament. The testament, the statement of belief, turned into testimony, evidence in support of the observation, that both anti-Semitism and the race for the Golden Calf are still going strong. The wonderings/wanderings of Reb Suk’s Jew Ron on his “fluid itinerary” (171) start off in 1988 Paris, France, where the clearly racist party of Le Pen has gained power and influence. The Fall was the reason for Adam’s (the first golem’s) expulsion from Paradise. For the doubting Jew it is the attribution of “Jew” by society that triggers his Fall and sends him on his journey, “looking for something, though he doesn’t know what it is… He doesn’t know what it is but he knows he’s going to have to trace the root” (16-17).
First, then, the exodus (in “Ex/ode”): Ron’s parents are evicted from their apartment in Brooklyn, we learn from conversations recorded on tapes, the family annals, annotated, transcribed, and analyzed. We hear the voices of the mother and the father before being exiled by a pitiless landlord, all that spliced with “real-time windows” about the death of Ron’s father. Ron’s feeling guilty. Reb Suk here foregrounds the physicality of the text by means of scribbles or doodles (cf. the picts in the headers of this review - my digitalized handwritten versions). As so many “wordbombs” in the novel, which explode into meanings, these drawings on the page (writings on the wall? graffiti?) refuse to unlock a certain meaning (except, perhaps, the Star of David).
Back to Ronnie’s childhood in the 1940s (in “Umbilicus”): In a fever dream sequence the Brooklyn boy not yet bar miztvahed hops the Flying Wing with 1940s radio series comic hero Captain Midnight, his dead neighborhood war hero Sgt. Leibowitz and a zaftig blond named Happy Landis (after one of Captain Midnight’s bon mots: “Happy Landing”). Their secret mission: to save the Jews in Germany from Hitler’s death machine by bombing the Nazi concentration camps.
After that, back to Europe in the late 1950s (in “Numbers”), “to find it, but that’s where he loses it completely” (73). The OT Numbers chapter describes the second part of the Israelites’ wandering in the desert, pursuing the cause/course of the Ark of the Covenant, and so Ron is on a tour through Europe searching for something he doesn’t know what it is. Through Germany (Dresden and Heidelberg), where he gets drunk on beer and sings with members of a student korporation (what, to my ears, sounds dangerously close to Arbeit macht frei), on to Bohemia in 1958 Paris, where Ron does research on the influence of French culture on the American poet Wallace Stevens. Here, he is exposed to the first attack of the virus by reading the novels of French anti-Semitic writer Louis-Férdinand Céline. And he discovers that the Golden Calf has the face of shallow materialism and shows in art which makes “no difference between worldly success and artistic success” (95).
In the next section of the “Testimony” part of the book, “Autonomy,” we meet Ron in Poland (Warsaw, Lublin, Kracow, and Auschwitz - but this part of the story, in best Federmanesque tradition, is cancelled and does not get told). The Sukenick family is from Bialystok, where they owned a cloth mill (remember: sukiennik), but Ron does not go there in search of origins, as there is nothing there to be found, all traces wiped out, except for some kreplach, cholent, and apple tzimmes. There were about 3,000,000 Jews in Poland before the War, then 250,000 left after the War, and today about 4,000 Jews are living in a nation of 39,000,000. “Ron keeps wanting to ask the political question that pervaded his childhood: Is it good for the Jews? But he stops himself. What Jews?” (115).
Next stop Jerusalem: In Reb Suk’s novel 98.6, Israel is not a country that exists on our maps but, as Brian McHale puts it, “a tissue of deliberate misattributions” (48), an Israel of the mind rather than of an actual encyclopedia. In Mosaic Man, this trip to Israel is a fine example for “travel writing” (if that is what it is), steering clear of the clichés and pitfalls of that genre, conjuring up a certain atmosphere by conveying the raw data. This section starts up as a wild, fast-forward, roller-coaster, surreal ride through the city in a car with Jews of different origin and persuasion, and finds its denouement in the claustrophobic setting of the Tunnel of Hezekiah, an underground labyrinth mirroring the labyrinth of the Old Town of Jerusalem above ground (Is this the secret passage to the Golden Calf?). Jerusalem seems to be an endless feedback loop in which everything and everybody is in some mysterious way interconnected: “Actually in Israel everything is happening at the same time anyway because in Israel the past is the present. Recall is total, time is forgotten” (136).
Then Ron turns Aschenbach (the aged writer in Thomas Mann’s novella Death in Venice), stalking the streets of Venice in search of a young man who, in another feedback loop, seems to be himself. First hints that he might be a golem. Unexpected things happen like in a surrealist novel by André Breton; as he visits the ancient Jewish ghetto (the first ever the world has seen), he seems to be unable to exit this space and finds himself back in the ghetto time and again.
Last loop in this section: as at the beginning, a return to Germany two or three weeks after the Fall of the Wall, visiting the Jewish cemetery of Berlin and participating in a conference on autobiography and the avant-garde in Mainz (cf. Autobiographie amp; Avant-garde, ed. by Alfred Hornung and Ernstpeter Ruhe, Tübingen: Narr, 1992) with the writers Serge Doubrovsky and Ray Federman, surfictionist, fellow writer and fellow Jew, who is in pursuit of fame, trying to find “the Golden Calf. Finding it and at the same time losing it. That’s why he likes to gamble” (182). Ron remembers a trip to Wannsee near Berlin, where the Nazis stumbled on the idea of the final solution to “the Jewish problem” so that Ron’s reflection on the Book of Life of course does not have any final solution to it:
No, the book of life cannot be paraphrased, it cannot be prescribed, it cannot be predicted, it cannot be dictated, it cannot be imitated, it cannot resemble some other book, it cannot begin, it cannot end, it cannot be made up, it cannot be about major characters or minor characters or any characters other than those of the alphabet, it cannot be about the right ideas, it cannot be controlled, it cannot be about reality, because life is not about reality. It is it. If it weren’t, what would be? There is only one thing you can do with the book of life: add to it. (197)
In part two of Mosaic Man, in which the Mosaic Law turns into “Hand Writing on Wall” and “Numbers” morphs into “Profit,” in which the “golden image [is] graved on every page, cast on every screen” (205), Ron, our Doctor of Philosophy, splits up into multiple personalities, into Doctors of Philosophy, one of these a tummler, a comic, a “killer kike” (203), an infected word clown in the boots of Danny Kaye or Lenny Bruce. Reb Suk’s Mosaic Man, called Ron or Ronnie in the first part of the book, is now an unnamed Avant-PoPoMo Morpheus, born too many times, an ever-changing, everlasting creature mosaicked together as multiple personalities (if one can speak of personalities here at all, keeping in mind the cardboard nature of all characters). Brought to life and unto the page by the author’s afflatus, by the secret code words of the Rebbe. Secret life-word scribbled on their forehead. AMETH. Truth. Multidimensional golemic vision. They see the world from every angle at the same time. As we read, they are us. And they is we. Only referred to as “we,” that is. A pronoun become name. Convergence of author and character? Are you kidding? Too simple. No name, no noun, no pro will do, only a shifter. Pointing to the action of writing itself, if at all pointing, to the “teller not the tales, the writer not the writ” (36). The trace of the hand writing. Its trail. Hand writing as in writing novel we reading.
Or, as Reb Suk puts it in his cultural-history-as-collective-autobiography of the U.S. underground, Down and In (1987), commenting on Jackson Pollock’s abstract expressionist paintings, which explode the edge of the canvas and turn wallpaper into art: “The action is on the wall, along with the handwriting. Part of life, not about it” (55). The next step in this direction is graffiti, the (sometimes unintelligible) sign in the book of the city which may assume various meanings depending on the reader, and it comes as no surprise that the graphic symbols in Mosaic Man (if that is what they are) resemble handwriting on a wall. In fact, these are doodles “written unto” the screen of Reb Suk’s computer, downloaded to the ROM of the book we hold in hand. The reader, on his or her part, changes ROM into RAM while reading. In short: he or she performs as RaMSCaN.
What’s the plot? Speculative jocularities. Stochastic extrapolations. A form of archeology. A screenplay for a flick called The Raiders of the Lost Calf. It goes like this: Some of the Marranos (Spanish Jews who converted to Christianity) in 15th century Spain are in the possession of an ancient calf icon (dug up near Ceasarea in the Holy Land). Expulsion in 1492. Turned crypto-Jews. 1942, Golden Calf is stolen by Nazi sect, but in the chaos of the final days of the war, they lose it too. Trail leads to Malta. The neo-Christian group called the Bond is on it. Fragments of the unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls are found in the heels of the cowboy boots of Strop Banally (© Up), an agent known in the trade as a golem. Uncircumcised. His handler is Dr. Frank Stein (© Out), an evil gene splicer. The Mossad come into the picture as the Bond is involved in the Third Temple Conspiracy, their aim to dynamite the Temple Mount in Jerusalem where they think the Golden Calf is buried. There is a connection to the Dead Sea Scrolls, especially the Copper Scroll: it gives directions to the original Golden Calf of Aaron. BTW: Eliezer Sukenik was the archeologist who bought the first Dead Sea Scrolls from a dealer in antiques in Palestine back in the 1940s. The Scrolls are written in genetic code. The language is called Gnomic. As in gnome and genome. “They say it’s a language that far outstrips the subtleties and complexities of any human language, proceeding by puns and triple or quadruple entendre. Something like ” Finnegans Wake ” (209). This is where he lost it.
The urban spaces of NYC are the topographical coordinates of the mosaic in progress, a pomo writing pad, hand writing on walls. In their 36th-floor apartment in Battery Park City, NYC, “we” are writing a novel entitled Great Expectorations, pomo-Dickensian sequel to Raiders of the Lost Calf about the private Dick Ram Shade (a clone of Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon) who has The Raiders on his heels, chasing after Strop Banally’s cowboy boots. Shade researches the Third Temple Conspiracy lead by Guy Lobe who represents the Bond (not the Covenant, mind you). Shade’s secret name is RaMSCaN, his code name Shadrak. Dr. Frank Stein, a metempsychotic, wants to penetrate the Third Temple Conspiracy. This is a fight of fabricated clay Frankenstein creatures (golems) against vampiric blood sucking Christian Draculas. The idol of the Golden Calf is a strong magnet and thus illustrative of the magnetisms of money, power, control, the pillars of international conglomerate advanced hyperconsumer pancapitalism for which Rod Drackenstein’s (© Blown Away, Count Dracula’s lust for blood and the android, superhuman quality of Frankenstein’s monster combined) corporation XXX, Ltd. (i.e., Triplex) is a good example:
A benevolent multinational interplanetary conglomerate dealing in space exploration, newspapers, biochemicals, computers, armaments, aircraft, breweries, publishing, transportation, food products, cigarettes, banking, gambling casinos, real estate, pet food, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, construction, bakery goods, shipping, sports, oil, farm machinery, containers, sex, soft drinks, entertainment and communication. We’re a wholly owned subsidiary of a division of Huge Industries. (233-34)
Mr. Huge, head of Huge Industries, is the YHWH of the coming century, a corporate Mammon who works with the Mormons. It’s lonely at the top. He works stark naked, and he is phobic about infection. Trying to mimic, if not become, God the father. He is on a mission to release his country from the bond of innocence, to corrupt them with the promise of the Golden Calf. But he has already won it, wondering: “why isn’t he redeemed?” (239) Reb Suk’s critique and his sociopolitical sense of responsibility shows most touchingly in the various appearances of our everyday metropolis golems - in this novel a palimpsest of the homeless and the victims of the Holocaust. The Unseeables. One of them is Shack or Shackle. Our shadow: “We hole up in abandoned tenements all over the city. Winter is cold, summer is hot. You can’t see us we you shadow. We you. No person see his shadow in the dark. Lose your shadow, lose your heart” (255). This is the haunting presence at the end of the book that lingers on.
Characters, or rather, names from earlier novels by Reb Suk as well as themes, notions, echoes, etc. from the first part of the novel, the Torah-Testimony section, are superimposed to convey a supercrazy, supercomplex take on different “genres” (conspiracy plot, screenplay, detective novel, science fiction, comic book) in this final fight for the Golden Calf. How Adam and Eve were kicked out of Paradise by Mr. Huge, now equipped with RAM where there was ROM, how the Golem connects with Elvis sightings, that you better find out yourself. Culture and history are palimpsests that are so heavily fraught with (sometimes mutually exclusive) meanings, that the system is constantly on the verge of crashing due to information overload. But this is how it is. Rx: Elvis’s middle name is Aaron, the biblical Aaron devised the golden calf that Elvis was in search of, Elvis was in part Jewish, he died but is still sighted all over the globe as a golem, the golem has letters on his forehead which are his or her survival-machine, he is driven by truth (AMETH), Gorbachev also had a red aleph on his forehead, and so on, and so on. In this pulp fiction fantasy, which includes numerous references to a plethora of “high” and “low” cultural sources, Reb Suk has rolled together so many strands into beautiful wordbombs that explode on the pages of this novel with meanings flying off in all directions, thus paying apt tribute to the historical density of ideas, words, and things, to their conglomerate nature (no pun intended). This hilarious, wild, funny, mad, disrespectful treasure hunt leads right into the entrails of global pop culture and international conglomerates. A pomo Armageddon. In the middle of the incredibly twisted plot (both meanings intended), as Ram Shade proves to be too vulnerable to the gorgeous ladies who populate the story, the author drops his character to tell the story themselves, to act for him, as a “different Shade” (249). In the end and on the last page the plot is resolved by the notorious aliens who take The Lone Ranger’s Cowboy Boots with them and are convinced that we are stupid but beautiful creatures. As in zoo. Me and you.
Reb Suk does not so much utilize popular culture for “key images, character and narrative archetypes, metaphors, and points of reference and allusion that help us establish our sense of who we are, what we want and fear, and how we see ourselves and the world” (McCaffery, After Yesterday’s Crash xviii), the strategies of Avant-Pop, but first and foremost exploits, cuts up, and rearranges images and tropes straight out of the most popular book ever written: the Bible, in this Avant-Pope-ish quest for what it means to be Jewish in an information-dense, avant-poped environment. In our recombinant culture (cf. the theories by Arthur Kroker), Reb Suk uses recombinatory arrangements to short-circuit ancient (and often biblical) myths and legends and contemporary pop residues. Thus, the resolution deployed by conventional literary realism (beginning - middle - end) is spatialized as more pixels to the inch on the screen of reality: a higher resolution rendering a better, a more focused image of what it means to live at the beginning of the 21st century by not downloading events, “characters,” tropes, and all the paraphernalia of story-telling to the ROM of a single plot; there are many plots and even counter-plots (e.g., as written for the screen by Plotz in Suk’s Blown Away) all resolved in infinite numbers of pixels on the mosaic pages of Suk’s novel. And this, writes the Rebbe, “is the misunderstood thrust of the ‘Postmodern’ in fiction: an attempt to get at the truth of experience beyond our fossilizing formulas of discourse, to get at a new and more inclusive ‘reality,’ if you will” (“Autogyro” 294). In the end, not the postmodern, but the mosaic condition is the condition of the dawning 21st century, not pre-, modern, and post-, but all and much more at the same time in our “seething confusion of internationality” (11).
[Now here goes my countdown. ‘Cause I’m it. I’m your reviewer. You have to read this. I’m writing your rear-view between Salzburg and Vienna dividing my time [[does that ring a bell?]], both cities in Austria - no kangaroos where none intended - seventy-four years after the publication of the English translation of Chayim Bloch’s book on the Golem [[ The Golem: Legends of the Ghetto of Prague ]] in Vienna, Austria, the same year that Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf was published, Hitler being an Austrian, 10,000 copies of his book sold within eight months, sixty-one years after the so-called Anschluss, the “annexation” of Austria by Hitler’s German Altreich, 99.7 per cent voting YES in a referendum [[down the drain, or better yet, up the pile with Bloch’s book]], and right now a couple of weeks ago far too many Austrians voted for Jörg Haider’s so-called liberal party [[what a dirty joke]], for HJ and his right-wing populist party, and me I am not even circumcised, nineteen days more in the old millennium, the twentieth century, my grandfather was a Nazi until his bitter cancer-infected end, these are the days boys, so it goes, who was born two thousand years ago? [[winner take all, golden calf and the works]], thing is [[gotta tell ya]]: my foreskin [[oops]] is not that developed as that of your common mister proper aryan [[wanna see picture? what ya payin’? sale juif, brudny zid]], at least no pungent stench released when I reveal [[as in revelation]] my glans, is my penis Jewish, does this than make me a Jew, a Jew of the mind, are you, this is getting out of hand, I’ve danced with you too long, not to be continued]
Reb Suk is deliberately not being correct, be that in terms of politics, religion, sexuality, or fiction. And that is what makes all his books so liberating, so refreshing, what forces you to ventilate that skull and not follow the worn-out (and incredibly boring) paths that are perennially trampled by the sluggish correct(ed) masses of PC, RC, SC, or FC. A Reb Suk text (allow me this one, Maurice) fights what Charles Bernstein has ingeniously called “frame-locked prose,” that is, prose which “seems to deny its questions, its contradictions, its exhilarations, its comedy, its groping” (98). RS is an iconoclast in the best sense of the word. He robs you of your cherished idols, shatters your graven images, and forces you to stare into the abyss that remains. Or right into the broken mirror as you stand before it, stripped of mode(l)s and (i)cons, naked from head to toe (prick and cunt exposed), book in hand, letter in mind. You better dance that Bossa Nova. It’s fun. Find out.
You have fallen into The Endless Short Story (ESS). This ends The Great American Review (GAR). Wake UP. You prefer novels that are really novel? Buy this one. Read it. Eat it. Feed on it. Digest it. Why? Because I’m it. You’re it. Are you a Jew? You [period lost]
Bernstein, Charles. My Way: Speeches and Poems. Chicago and London: U of Chicago P, 1999.
Bérubé, Michael. “Straight Outta Normal.” Critique 37.3 (1996): 188-204.
Blanchot, Maurice. The Writing of the Disaster. Trans. Ann Smock. Lincoln and London: U of Nebraska P, 1995.
Idel, Moshe. Golem: Jewish Magical and Mystical Traditions on the Artificial Anthropoid. Albany: State U of New York P, 1990.
McCaffery, Larry. “The Fiction Collective, 1974-1978: An Innovative Alternative.” Chicago Review 30.2 (1978): 107-126.
__________ (ed.). After Yesterday’s Crash: The Avant-Pop Anthology. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1995.
McHale, Brian. Postmodernist Fiction. London and New York: Routledge, 1987.
Steiner, George. “Our Homeland, the Text.” Salmagundi 66 (1985): 4-25.
Sukenick, Ronald. 98.6: A Novel. New York: Fiction Collective, 1975.
__________. Down and In: Life in the Underground. New York: Morrow, 1987.
__________. “Autogyro: My Life in Fiction.” Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Vol. 8. Ed. Mark Zadrozny. Detroit: Gale, 1989: 283-295.
__________. “How to Be Jewish.” Autobiographie amp; Avant-garde. Ed. Alfred Hornung and Ernstpeter Ruhe. Tübingen: Narr, 1992: 387-400.