Joseph Young's debut collection of micro-fictions, Easter Rabbit, is a big book. Not big in its sense of ambition, or girth or bloat, but big in a personal way--in the way these little stories blow up inside your imagination, sometimes fitting their teeth against the cogs of your memories, other times sealing themselves tight inside glowing atmospheres of mystery, of pain, beauty and significance--these little stories are bigness."Fitting their teeth against the cogs of your memories" is, whoa, strangely lovely in spite of its gruesomeness. Peak does a close reading in his review, and I think it's the best kind of close reading -- one that names questions rather than answering them. But he does note some imperfections, and the one I want to address isn't because I feel defensive, but because it is in this objection that he hits on the one thing that makes me most excited about the book.
Peak's contention is that some of the stories are incomprehensible in their abstraction. I would argue that in my reading, they are all too abstract to comprehend. Like, I keep going back to "Sine," the first story. What does that one mean? NOTHING.
Probably Joe is tired of me always referring to "Sine." Sorry Joe, but that's about as far as I've come in terms of really reading the book. (Well, that and "Occupation," which is like the other end of the spectrum. It's so plot heavy.)
What I mean to say is that no matter how many times I've read the book, or read several stories in a row (because I haven't read the book straight through more than once), I don't actually feel like I've read anything. It's a very strange experience. These stories call into question what it means to read. Do you read eye charts at the eye doctors? Do you read tarot cards? Do you read STOP signs? I think these are things you look at, and I have looked at most of Easter Rabbit more than I have read it.
Which isn't to say that I have read "Sine" enough times to get it, to approach it and see something that it means. In fact, that story had an immediate impact on me -- I read it and afterward I knew something that I hadn't known before.
Unfortunately, Fortunately, I cannot put a name to whatever it is that I learned. This isn't that sort of epistemology. It's art, man, and some sublimity cannot be named. Joe has said that he prefers the company of artists, and I think that might be because they can visualize (or otherwise present) their responses to phenomena in a way that is satisfied without the need to name. At the Easter Rabbit release party, Joe has asked several artists to respond to the stories, and I bet the pairings will create a new dawn.
To bear out the analogy from above: when new agers "read" tarot cards they look at them on the table and then apply a complicated system of interpretation that they have studied and internalized, and they make connections. This connectivity is still what's at play in our dialectical system -- thesis, antithesis, synthesis -- but what I love about Easter Rabbit is that it operates outside of that. The reading habits that we are so trained in rely on what we already know to give meaning. More to the point, these habits rely on what we know we know, and by grouping these fact sets, story emerges.
When drivers "read" STOP signs they see them and know what is meant. That is exactly the same thing as seeing a tree. The only people who read STOP signs are people who are just learning to read and find they have to sound out the word. This reading is actually quite close to the way I would read Easter Rabbit, if I could. I can immediately identify the words in each sentence, but I have to "sound out" the signification.
When patients "read" eye charts, the only thing being learned regards the person's ability to see. The actual "text" in question is irrelevant. If Joe's stories weren't so darn beautiful, I could actually make a case about a similiarity here. I am not entirely certain of how much the stories have to do with the implications of the book.
Socrates referred to himself as a midwife because his role was to give birth to the things his students already had inside them. I don't believe Joseph Young is playing in the same gymnasium as Socrates or Hegel.
In other news, it was a good weekend. Sweatpants played the "I Will Smash You" Baltimore premiere. Michael Kimball and I met yesterday morning to discuss Rachel Glaser's book of short stories that is coming out next summer. Michael is the editor. I like this arrangement because it makes me feel like the president of something.
I watched the Ravens almost lose, almost win, finally lose at the football match.
Stephanie Barber sent me a bunch of fantastic cover images for the Byrne book. Website for that book forthcoming, with much anticipation.
Joke: This string walks in and says to the Other Guy, “185 Teachers walk into a bar and the bartender says, ‘We don’t serve 185 Teachers here’ and 185 Teachers say, ‘That’s okay, we’re History’ and they leave.” The Other Guy refrains from laughing. He has a face like the scratchy part of a matchbook. He says, “We don’t server strings here,” and the string goes, “I know, but listen to this. A guy walks into a bar with a snapping turtle—” but before he can finish Ronnie at the end of the bar hollers, “Get that string out of here.” The Other Guy says, “I’m afraid not.” Baboom!