The Minutes Buried
[A Short Story]
If I were another kind of man, I might write something completely different from what I have here written, what I had written in the past, about my review, this literary review that had begun as a literary essay review, one I originally called The Literary Essay Review, the literary essay being one of the forms of writing I had had and have had the greatest affinities for, one and another affinity I developed over time, yet at a time, as I will have remembered some time after this, when the essay, as handed down from Montaigne, yes, he did hand down the form, passed it on . . . how we have imitated it (?) in style–what is it about style that remains so difficult to discuss, explicate, what is it in the contents of Montaigne’s essays, his voice . . . Montaigne’s writing was the axis on which all generic activity revolved, turning, turning, turning, the world is always gira, gira, Angelo used to say.
By here I mean–what do I mean when I say, ‘here.’ Where is here? Here is wherever you are. And tat means now what? I am here, not there, concentric circles of here-ness displacing there-ness. But what I mean by what is held in my hand, a copy of the About Us entry I have written, the hard-copy text of it I have in my hand . . . to read or not to read has been my to be or not, I could say, I might have said as well. What would he have said if he knew I was reading this to you? Another me would ask. I cannot say, will not be able to, actually, this not yet having happened . . . past, present and future in writing merely illusions.
Third-person I . . .
What he wrote at a time when we were together in Graduate school–I cannot say where or when exactly to the minutes, the moment that either pen touched page, paper, usually of some good quality, or his finger tips touched the keys of his laptops keypad. You too have these questions, or questions related to, perhaps stemming from, general inquiries into these topics, subjects, themes, what else do I have in words to say what I have been trying to say about this man and his writing experiences, past and present and future writing, or simply what he was trying to say–always an is, isn’t it, this was that is. The past is not past, is it, William? This in itself another essaying, to essay about the essay? He asks, has asked, once asked me directly. He has written a lot about what it means to write expository prose, narrative, anti-narrative–is lyric fiction actually anti-narrative or simply a-narrative?
I do know, more or less, what he was disposed to writing at a time back at university, further back when we were undergraduates together; and that was one or another kind of literary essay, to try or not to try; to put on trial–every essay is a trial of an idea as court trials that try the accused–I recall the devil’s advocate of Canon Jurisprudence. And it was then that he kept a journal, all journal writing being a form of the essay, particularly literary in his sense of it, how to keep a journal, what a journal was to be or not to be, he had even edited a number of college club reviews where the essay was the principle form exposed–
All essays themselves expository, thus a kind of exhibitionism, no? To expose one’s self in the exposition of the subject. There was one he recalls (as he had recalled, had recalled or recollected from time to time . . . shells on the beach, stones on his path, twigs with leaves still attached, perhaps in his walks after a thunderstorm . . . and then, with fondness, he remembers The Language and Linguistics Quarterly, which he had intended to publish on the equinoxes and solstices, but only one made it into print, and that was the spring issue–in fact, as with his current review, which has now changed its focus and has become a review of literary short fiction, flash fiction in particular, as well as short-short stories, as he likes to say when he recognizes that the length of a piece might exceed the limit that others have put on flash fiction, a limit he himself adheres to, somewhere in the vicinity of a thousand words? Why does he worry about these trivialities, you might think? I do not ask this question. Everything that goes on, goes on by way of indirection.
The linguistics quarterly and other reviews he has edited for hard copy and on line publication were mostly in the market of publishing essays, most of which–I should say, all of which–were written by him. He is everything for his currently published literary review–and it is this that takes precedence, the literariness of the texts, of the collection or collecting. He has been the entire staff of other literary reviews too, he has been publishing on line for more than a decade, now, or so he recollects through my recollection . . . and now again he is the Publishing Editor and chief contributor as well as managing editor–all the tasks taken upon each of these roles have been subsumed by him here, and now he takes the opportunity, in the About Us section that houses a number of letters from him describing intent, to explain purpose or to define terms, or to put limits on the magazine, the journal, the review, the whatever you want to call it so long as what you call it is relevant and appropriate, and there is something we used to like calling appropriate that is still valid to qualify. Just what the other literary genres are that he publishes–what a literary review could be, should be, must be, even has been taken up in several places in the review . . . what more could be said by him, should be said by him–a habit here of questioning that I have picked up from him, have adopted or adapted as my own . . . how is adoption not adaptation? What should I be saying? What shouldI have already said that you might have wanted me to say to you about him, about his writing, about his review? Herein he says what he says about writing and publishing his review (to see again . . . what we would not give to see our lost loved ones again, to see our youth again, to see again the calamities that have befallen us before they happened, they did happen without our having seen, no? At least what we should have seen, “Why does Oedipus blind himself?” I remember a student in my classics class asked, and the answer that Tomasz gives in Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being that I will not repeat here [for some immediate sense of brevity, whether misplaced or not]):
A literary web journal dedicated to the literary essay, he says, has said, did say, could not have avoided saying, will certainly say again at another time and in another place, another journal, his own journal, the one he carries with him everywhere he goes with pen in his bag; yes, another essay published elsewhere, what he has to say, thinks he must, What means this? He asks in imitation of someone he has forgotten whom. What could I be saying here, he adds; now in the hour of my discontent over what I see as the current state of literacy, and he does lament the degradation in the attention to letters in our schools; or how myopic we have become, yes, he adds, and iconoclastic–yes, iconoclastic with our traditions, he says, which I have never accepted without question as much and as often as too many today denounce it, deny it, refuse it without question or inquiry. Who of any kind of intelligence accepts his tradition in such a way that many students of students of students of Post-post Structuralist lament or critique assume say insist, all of it or most of it being the old setting up of straw dogs, never a reality, only an a fiction made to suit their pursuit of hegemony.
Words, words and more words come from me, have come from him I recall, with an ease, and effortlessness, not so much from me as from him this way, long streams of words, a gift for gab, one bartender in Brooklyn had said to him how long ago now? Who remembers?
Writing is everything for him; it has been everything for me as well . . . writing is all, the text is all? Any writing dedicated to the proposition that all of humanity is created equal would be one thing, he has said in the past in the About Us section of the review on line–he publishes on line . . . but certainly not all literature or literatures or literacies are equal–they have never been and could never be, he has insisted. That our differences do not outweigh our similarities or our sameness, even if they do out number them in persons is easy enough for any man or woman from anywhere to see. Asking questions in this culture often means something else other than looking for an answer, he said, just the other day, in fact, over a pint of a farmhouse saison at the bar at The Red House Restaurant in Cambridge . . . [.] Why were we in Cambridge, I do not have to answer, do I?
We have become too practiced in the art of diverting answers with questions, with avoiding having to learn by perpetually asking them. What am I trying to say? He would not wonder if some might ask. That would be too condescending. How is this proposition managed in this world, one where all people are equal?
Am I crazy to think that a literary review, whether dedicated principally to the literary essay or to flash fiction, can even take off–I am reminded of why Led Zeppelin called themselves Led Zeppelin. Can such a review have an audience? Can it reach an audience larger than two handfuls? He asks his readers. Anything literary in this culture is in jeopardy of becoming extinct soon.
He pauses. I pause. I am poised to listen to him, as I usually am poised to listen to him, as many are so poised to listen to him; he has always held great audiences when he spoke, particularly in bars with pints and noisy aberrant chatter and laughter. How do you read? What do you read? What do you like to read? What do you think you should read, or equally importantly, what do you think everyone should read?
I am not going to pretend that there is an editorial staff other than me, he says to his readers, you the reader being one of his readers, although he is talking to you in abstentia, at least in an absence that is not the same as when he is talking to you directly from his review. Absence is presence was an essay topic he broached once more than a decade ago, when he considered the absence of the Twin Towers and just what that could mean, did mean, had meant for as long as it was relevant for it to mean, words never do say what they mean at, do they?
To be me or not to be me in the writing is not the essence of what I intend with voice–there are more voices than those that can mimic mine in its deepest interiority. How deep can anyone go inside himself he tries has made the effort, it is the selves if the Self one has to touch, relate to, talk with and not just to and at . . . dig down in there; get behind the masks of your selves buried alive inside you.
What can I say about the Review–what do you say about it after having read it. That’s what is important. What do I–should I say other than it has shifted focus from literary and non-fictional political to fictionally political, or is it politically fictional? And here he is addressing another kind of fictionality, yet one related to what fiction is, what it was , has been . . . but, but, and but again. Philosophy is a branch of fiction, no?
This is still a literary endeavor; it is literary in what it produces, as in literary fiction, flash fiction particularly, literary flash fiction–there was once a question that by its very formative nature flash fiction could not be anything but literary, but I forget who brought up this point one night at the acfe we had been frequenting back in Graduate School, what the points were specifically, I cannot say, but literary fiction of any length was/is what is has been published. The Review is a review of fiction.
He continues, but what good would it do for you, my hypocrite readers–and do not be offended–to read every word of what he has said thought put down in the About Us section, I cannot say. I do not see this as bearing much fruit, for you to continue to read on what he has said. You could just go to The Falling Leaf Review yourself and see. To see or not to see–I am The Review, he says has said did say will say again and again for as long as he publishes and he does not see this ending anytime soon. What more would anyone need him to say at this juncture–this place, a place; to place or not place, where to be placed, this place, that place, every place no place any place, agin, which place . . . also in place of reading the review, you would have nothing. There is no in place of anything like reading the text itself. Only the text itself is the text itself. And the natural hypocrisy that runs through human nature–we are hypocrites either by nature in the sense of ourselves as a species or human nature which would be habit so long endured or engaged that it masquerades perfectly as nature?
If the review is him, and he has said that the review, it is I, only in French, Louis’s French, it was said, c’est moi, which can translate, it’s me. Yes, it is not, c’est je, but c’est moi. What then? Read the review? Doesn’t everything a writer writes tell you something and possibly everything you need to know about him? What happens here happens for you to know; what is, is–what if I were Hamlet? you should ask, not What of Hamlet were I? You disagree? I hate biography as a mode of criticism–I would not care if Dostoevsky fucked goats in Siberia. No, really, it is useless as criticism, biography; although really well written critical biographies have been extraordinary. I do not want to malign biographical criticism or critical biographies because these can be handled differently than the insipid way most biographical data is meant to supplant critique. Let me let this go for now or until something better comes to mind about what I am trying to say about the place of biography in criticism.
Usually, though, biographies of writers tell you nothing of the literary and everything of human neuroses. What am I saying? Why do I need to say what I have thus far said? Is it necessary to try to establish this polemical position–all polemics are distempers of a kind for the polemicist, as much as they are for their targets. Foolish enterprise; but then, the polemicist would probably do better if he did follow folly all the way and not as half-heartedly as he seems to, more serious, too serious, very,very serious.
Anecdotes are anecdotes; a truth, once more, in tautology.