By D. Harlan Wilson: an American novelist, short-story writer, critic, screenwriter, playwright, editor and university professor whose body of work bridges the aesthetics of literary theory with various genres of speculative fiction.
The professor cares more about the world than the flesh. From the cockpit of the lunar observatory, he watches the white god move across the sky like a cue ball in water, disrupting the tides in concert with the flows of desire. There is no fallout beyond the exploded redwoods that collapse into the swamp. The movie theater is another story. The director has fled the scene and permitted the audience free access to their subjectivities. They make too much noise. The everyman delivers a verdict, intending to vociferate to the nth degree, but only a crippled whisper escapes his lips as he rises stiff-backed from his cot like Orlock from a coffin. Stigmatized, viewers stand, turn and stare at the revolutionary with the black flames of their faces burning in the fire pits of tall turtlenecks. But the moon has already disappeared into a phantom pocket.
The vehicle accelerates when the child dances into the intersection. Consciousness expunges the collective shriek of bystanders. The director orders the cameramen to keep rolling in spite of the alternate diegesis, which hinges on awareness and ego far more than aggression and id. Petrified by raw identity, the actors revolt, pinning one another by the knees and elbows to the screen like insects on display. The director attempts to restore order, but the everyman crashes the set and ensures that the continuum of society’s real unreality remains unbroken.
The everyman did not expect the professor to experiment on him, let alone vivisect him. Later, sipping martinis in the Blue Lounge, he explains that he holds a two-pronged doctorate, one in philosophy, the other in biology. The professor resembles a bygone sand-baron despite being a dog-poet from the New School—grossly obese, incurably jaundiced, a mess of hair and sweat and ulcers stuffed into a Victorian frock coat. Somewhere from within the mess lurks a crooked rictus grin. Needless to say, he is harmless to the point of barely existing in the same dimension as the other dramatis personae, even the ones he disarticulates in the Kill Room.
The only distinction between the word and the world is the twelfth letter of the modern English alphabet. Otherwise the “chaos factor,” according to the pope, falls to the lowest register on the “silver-lined métier.” And yet when the pope sentences the everyman to death before the Council of Imperators in an affected Southern drawl, the power of the one effectively terminates the primacy of the other, rendering the distinction palpable. The director captures most of the execution with an Arriflex BL3. Keynote scenes are shot with an Arriflex 2C. In the end, the corpse of the everyman is resuscitated and deposited in his dressing room.
The vice president intones: “It does not matter how commanding and egregious the asshole you kill may be. Another, stronger asshole will always rise in his place. Humanity and assholery are interchangeable terms. As is humanity and banality. And if A equals B and B equals C then A equals C. This transitive property of equality is a salient prescription for nothingness.” The kneeling, cherub-faced president blinks as the vice president places a shotgun against his skull and, nodding at the cameraman, pulls the trigger . . . Spewing pulp and syntax, the president’s headless body topples aside and the vice president moves center-screen. “See? Now I am the president. And now the speaker of the house is vice president. And so on. Facile logistics. Reductio ad absurdum.” The president kneels. Stepping onscreen, the vice president addresses the nation, places a handgun against the president’s skull and, nodding at the cameraman, pulls the trigger . . . “Now I am the president. And the president pro tempore of the senate, who was momentarily the speaker of the house, is vice president . . .”
Crouched behind the steering wheel of a Mazda RX7, the driver searches for roadkill to run over a second time and, if possible, a third and a fourth time. He has been doing this for several days. When other drivers witness the runovers, they generally react with expressions of horror and wonder that are exacerbated by the vehicle itself—nobody, after all, expects the driver of a Mazda RX7 (or any Mazda, for that matter) to commit such random, needless and trite yet dark and meaningful acts of belligerence. The driver had recently been diagnosed by the administrator as a “non-notable resident of the suburb,” a verdict that more or less relegated him to the everyman category. In his dog-eared eyes, assaulting roadkill in an obsolete sports car is merely a last-gasp effort to assert an identity that has already lost its stitching.
Everybody knows that everymen are expendable. What matters is what lurks beneath their inherent superfluity. Consider Everyman. Composed by an anonymous author, the fifteenth-century play makes a case for the achievement of Christian salvation with characters whose signatures allegorize the concepts they embody. The first actor to take on the role was the closest thing to a movie star known in that era, and as with many powerful artists, his obsessions and fetishes were common knowledge. Among them was scopophilic exhibitionism. Before productions, he skillfully wove his harem into the fabric of the audience so that, wherever he planted his gaze, at least one of them was visible, at which point she would lift up her dress and flash him for as long as his gaze hung on the crosier of her flesh. His eyes never strayed from his audience, even when other actors addressed him. From beginning to end, then, women showed him their nudity. Everybody knew what was going on, of course, and the actor reveled in the experience of being observed by a large group of people as he observed the breasts and vaginas of his wives. Typically he ejaculated in his tights several times per performance, idling to groan and make faces. Such behavior might seem inappropriate given the content of Everyman, a heavy-handed morality play underscoring that good deeds are the only means of entering the kingdom of heaven, but fifteenth-century theatergoers were not as uptight as twenty-first-century subjects might think, and in fact, the actor believed every performance was a good deed, providing multiple forms of entertainment to the community and to himself.
The professor falls in love with the bishop, who reciprocates the gesture and strips down to his moon boots. Breathing like a diseased gorilla, the professor unzips the trousers of his suit and orders the bishop to unman him. The bishop resembles a Venetian bodybuilder with his gleaming bronze musculature, bright white teeth and deck-boat hair. As the director films them in the foyer of the courthouse, a surge of television static illuminates the crystal floor of the church, ruining the gaffer’s lightwork and disorienting the professor. Losing balance, he falls sideways onto a marble stairway, slams his swollen head into a step and loses consciousness. When he awakens, the flesh has arrogated the world in his emotional catalogue. The director captures the arrogation with a Panaglide. The editor, however, fails to produce a viable End Product and, once again, the socius reverts to Square One.
Few people recognize the importance of capable editors. They are the only ones who make people seem like people. In the absence of a capable editor, a character doesn’t even accomplish the status of animal, or landscape, or concept. Identity hinges on the art of cutting and pasting. This escapes the traditional gothic villain, for instance, who is so swept away by his own arrogance and sense of self that he forgets to acknowledge how we are all Frankenstein monsters pieced together from the scraps of dead letter offices. Without the pieces, there can be no whole to take apart. Disperdam totum.
Middleground is the stuff of folklore, as the following death scene corroborates: “First of all, my ‘real name,’ as it were, is not Bing Schmidt,” says the pope. “That rumor was floated by an enemy of the real. Secondly, I always urinate in the kitchen sink. Why? It makes sense. The toilet is too far away. More importantly, in a sink, with the faucet running, the threshold of splashing is rendered something like nil, whereas in the toilet, piss splashes on the walls, on my pants, on my shoes, on the floor—everywhere.” The canned nature of the latter assertion incites fury in the congregation of gypsies that surround the pope in a lazy circle. They close on him like a sphincter and stab him like Caesar, altogether at first, then in turn, accompanying each stab with a poetic insult. Stone-faced, the pope says nothing and allows himself to be assassinated despite the fact that he possesses the special-ops training experience and strength to disarm and kill all of his assailants with relative ease. But the pope is tired of people, of incessantly conning them into believing that life is worth living in hopes that they will leave him alone for a moment to sip wine and read bad haiku. It never happens. As the gypsies flee and his blood pools across the marble, the slow metronome of his heartbeat misaligns the gentle waves of the surf breaking in the distance. This is happiness.
An astral projection of the musician’s ego materializes in the crop circle on the outskirts of the compound. He scrutinizes the interpellation, deliberating the placement of the projection vis-à-vis the circle’s shape and symbolic timbre. His conclusion vacates the architecture of truth. As a compensatory gesture, he writes a pop song called “Velvet Sunshine,” waits for nightfall and sings it to himself, a cappella, in the dark.
Enraged, the professor allows the production manager to weigh his birdlike hands, which are entirely out of proportion with the rest of his body. He rests them on the scale, palms up, and exhales deeply, imagining that his lungs extend into his long fingers and that emptying them will produce the best results. Meanwhile the director has emptied his heart onto the chaise as the monkey picks fleas from the deep cone of his ears. “This irreality is unfit to pixilate,” laments the director, eyeballing the mise-en-scène with regret. “Trapped in the anus of impossibility, we must go native. If need be we will resort to Shakespearean antics.” The monkey leaps onto the ceiling, swings across the room from chandelier to chandelier, and dismounts onto a bookcase. Bending over, he selects a title from the top shelf, then swings back to the armchair behind the desk and gives the book to the director. He looks at the title in bewilderment. “Isn’t that the name of a pop song?” In fact, it is a biography of the director’s life. Like Abraham Lincoln, at least one biography has been published on him every year since the awarding of his first Oscar. He hasn’t heard of this one, but he suspects that it is just like all of the others: thoroughbred fictions rooted in myth . . .
Where exactly do these weird vectors collide with the logic of sense? Or is it a matter of time rather than place? Wrangling eternity requires mettle and grit in tandem with coordination. All bodies without organs are only as good as their interchangeable parts (ibid.), and oneiric energy is better than original energy. Collectively, after all, the hollow men outweigh the stuffed men.
The butcher moonlights as a bartender and a minister. The bishop doesn’t like it—more than one holy man in the room is bad for business. It doesn’t matter that the butcher’s ministry never leaves the street. In addition, multi-vocational stances are frowned upon by the general public, the members of which tend to behave like everymen and spurn diversity at every turn.
The director falls prey to his own Dionysian impulses and begins to shoot the actors. This has happened before in several Research One diegeses. As always, the bloodbath concludes with the following monologue: “The increasing proliferation of cinematic violence constitutes modern sublimation at its best,” the director utters to the dead. “Violence used to be an intimate part of daily life. Advanced electric technologies, then, produced a steady, significant decrease of violence on the social and corporeal registers to the degree that now violence is primarily a matter of class, viz., proles need to steal and kill people for food to eat and stay alive. In fact, this used to be the default human condition. And the human condition misses itself. Hence cinematic technology—it reminds us of the importance of the death-drive—how we need death, how we crave strife and conflict, how desire is the desire for desire . . .”
When life loses its taste, the children find solace in the minor, mirrored details. And the music of fatality.
In stop-motion animation, the professor floats across the linoleum earth, arms and legs dangling from his rotund frame like heavy chunks of deadwood. He can feel the weight of the sun on his fat, bristled neck. Disposable nightmares flit across his mind’s screen as he devolves into a Hyde-like prodigy, withered and ragged and rife with glory, before the wet eyes of the creator, who realizes that a so-called Jekyll never existed in the first place: this current facsimile is the original prototype. Confined to the Yard of the theater with the other proles, the everyman laughs at the realization as if it might be a punchline as he is killed again, resurrected again, killed again, etc., etc., in imaginative and superstylized ways. Patriotism is always only as good as the special effects used to reify the arithmetic of its enactment.
The outsider slips into a nonrefundable dream where his lines are continually edited out. He can feel the lines tunneling up his esophagus and rolling across his tongue. Then, the moment before articulation, they depixilate in his mouth and evaporate into his nasal cavity. Who is responsible? The outsider searches for the culprit, riding up and down the elevators and running up and down the highways. He discovers a partisan film crew in room 18 of the Blue Motel shooting what is ostensibly a pornographic film. Each member of the crew holds an antiquated smartphone over his head like a torch and records a man and a woman having sex on a cum-stained mattress from precarious down-angles. The man’s thick, feathered, tennis-pro hair complements the woman’s gleaming arugula. The outsider imagines the outcome of a bigot raid, but ultimately aggression of any kind doesn’t make sense and won’t be productive. He slips aside, revises his agenda and remembers who he is: an everyman, like everybody, who lacks control.
The lounge and the motel have been evacuated by the local authorities, who ferried the slot machines away in wheelbarrows and replaced the deluxe shower mats with unfolded, unread newspapers. Today’s headlines all concern the matter of history, i.e., how history doesn’t matter, how nothing changes, how the universe was never born and will never die. Time always finds a way to reinvent itself. Ghosts always find a way to haunt the stars. Concerned, the fisherman glances back and forth between the headlines and a sign on the wall that reads NO CLEANING FISH IN THE SHOWER. Naturally he disobeys the sign, like all of the motel guests, but he ignores the lounge, unable to enjoy himself in the absence of gambling devices, even if the lounge and the motel have been evacuated by the local authorities, and nobody, including the fisherman, is there.
Weary and disjointed, the director hijacks the pathology of his leading man, then shoots him in the head and plays the role himself. He films himself with a sentient IMAX camera that has not yet been invented and only exists in select futures. During a dream sequence, a league of corpuscles flows into the aqueduct where he falls asleep after a gunfight. The weird individuality of the corpuscles belies their affection for community and togetherness. With no warning, the scene scatters outward like birdshot. Viewers realize that the dream of the rood was a joke written by a medieval stand-up comedian. The rabble burned him at the stake for cheap jokes and bad stage presence. Centuries later, another child dances into the intersection and receives an ovation from the ghosts of tomorrow. Finally the professor returns to the observatory and contemplates the nature of the director’s ontology. Gazing into the telescope, he observes what appears to be a coven of nosferatu haranguing the everyman on a rogue channel. In fact, they are elderly male actors in frock coats asking the everyman for directions to oblivion. If only it were that simple. In a different context, these diegeses might be guilty as charged. Another exertion could render them practical.
Image source: (c) DA