My buddy David Zincavage just dismissed all my writing with this comment:
“You and I have a basic problem here, Robert, in that the kind of literature you like to produce is pretty much precisely the kind of literature (modern, experimental, formalistically innovative, intensely subjective) which I do my best to avoid.”
Which is, of course, completely wrong. I don’t mind. Everyone is entitled to his opinion. It’s just that since I’ve spent a lifetime rebelling against the modern standard of what literature is, from its affected exclusion of meaning from fiction to its insistence that groveling confession of the lowest desires and actions is the highest art, I tend to take exception.
Also, given that a significant chunk of my opus is devoted to satirizing modern lit — from Tom Wolfe to Norman Mailer to T. S. Eliot to P.D. James to the blockbuster NYT bestseller of the day — I experienced the intensely subjective desire to have a loud chuckle at a fairly pompous and ignorant dismissal by a superior old Yalie.
Hence this reprint of a piece I wrote in the vein of one of Harvard’s most iconic alumni. It’s from the Moon Books store in my “formalistically innovative” multimedia work called Shuteye Town 1999, which is just exactly like everything else written in the 20th century. Enjoy it, Eli.
Rabbit Is Senile
Here I go again, with another brilliant display of writing. It’s amazing, even to me, that I can write this well, so transparently that it seems the scenes are just unfolding themselves out of the ether, but then again with that additional turn or twist or tweak which make it inescapably clear that we’re in the hands of Upcreek the master. I started out with this much talent all the way back when I was a summa cum laude English major at Harvard, and I’ve never stopped producing. Every piece I do for The New Yorker, every smug review and essay, every one of these damn Rabbit novels—they’re all, always, brimming with talent. It’s just so fucking beautiful the way I use words that everyone, including me, is rapt, so that even though we’re still in the first paragraph of Rabbit is Senile, all my readers have already zoomed back to where Rabbit’s life was when we left off last time, and they can taste and feel and hear the tiniest incidentals of his experience, which at the moment have to do with the fact that his diaper has just been soiled and he is grappling in the depths of his bleached and porous memory for some identification of the experience of having a bowel movement.
Only I can get away with this kind of scrupulously unblinking description, because I do it so damn well, and it doesn’t matter a farthing that nobody out there, or in here, gives a shit about Rabbit—they come to me for the performance alone, the way they would go to see Luciano Pavorotti sing arias out of context.
And if, in this case, the aria is but a cheap rehash of characters that were never that interesting in the first place, it’s still okay, because prose this beautiful accomplishes the miracle of demonstrating that life itself cannot live up to the glory of my talent with words. And if it is a joke that I am, at this very instant, describing in meticulous compleatness the content of Rabbit’s Pamper, it is not a small joke or a venal one; it is rather part of the grand joke that I and my readers share about life—if only, we all sigh and chuckle and exclaim, if only life were as fine as the writing of John Upcreek. And as we sigh and chuckle together, I can begin my next tour de force by bringing this stinking Pamper to the brink of your very nostrils and holding it there for long minutes, while arma virumque cano Troiae qui primus ab oris Laviniamque venit. Multa ille terris iactatis et alto. Dux femina facta. Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit.
Arma virumque cano Troiae qui primus ab oris Laviniamque venit. Multa ille terris iactatis et alto. Dux femina facta. Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit. Arma virumque cano Troiae qui primus ab oris Laviniamque venit. Multa ille terris iactatis et alto. Dux femina facta. Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit. Arma virumque cano Troiae qui primus ab oris Laviniamque venit. Multa ille terris iactatis et alto. Dux femina facta. Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit.
The Latin bit at the end is called Greek. Still chuckling.
P.S. And we haven’t even gotten to the part where I goofed on Shakespeare, Milton, Plato, Swinburne, and Voltaire. But goofing on them was an act of love.