To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Raymond Federman: from The Carcasses

Yesterday I bought a new tape recorder – and today I recorded a story on my new recorder – this is the story – I call it –


I am sitting in my study -- that's how the story I recorded begins -- I am sitting in my study in California - in San Diego California -- close to the sun -- where I moved four years ago to be with myself and finish my work -- I am sitting in my study looking out the window at the splendid view before me -- incredible the valley the mountains the trees the sky -- beautiful -- I had a good day - I feel great -- good round of golf this morning -- shot an 81 -- yes 81 -- 38 on the front - I hit seven greens on regulation - had two birdies -- back nine a 43 -- two lousy double bogies -- dumb mistakes -- the mind wanders sometimes -- but a solid 81 -- then home to work on my body in nine parts with 3 supplements -- the English transaction -- worked on my scars today -- and I look up and there before me the view -- incredible - and I think -- when you die all this gets extinguished -- nothing more to see -- it's like plunging into a big black hole -- everything becomes dark -- but then it occurs to me that to say that -- to think that - implies the possibility of an after -- of some kind of existence after you die -- could I have been wrong all my life -- no -- I'm not going to fall into the meta-pata-physical stuff -- no magic trick -- not divine power or intervention -- I am human -- I am conscious of being human and alive -- but now you are dead -- so here you are among all the dead carcasses -- yes that's what this story is called -- the carcasses -- here they are -- the old ones that have been around for a long time -- the new ones that just arrived -- all pile up on top of one another waiting for their turn to be transmuted -- transmutation does not happen all at once -- does not happen instantly the moment you become a carcass -- carcasses are not reincarnated the moment they become carcasses -- theirs is a waiting period -- a kind of incubation -- so here you are waiting your turn -- no magic trick as I said -- just that you have to wait for the authorities to decide -- yes let's call them that -- authorities -- and they are the ones who decide when it's your turn to be transmuted -- they call you -- hey you over there come over here -- and they tell you we’re sending you back -- back wherever you came from -- doesn't have to be the planet earth -- carcasses come from all the places in the entire universe -- the place where the carcasses are piled up is a separate zone in the great void of the universe -- nobody knows where it is -- but it's like a huge department store -- a bit like wall-mark -- and there carcasses of all sizes all types all shapes all forms -- but most of them formless - wait for the authorities to call them to be transmuted -- one cannot argue with the authorities -- you have to accept their decision -- and so your turn came and you are told that you are going back as an insect -- yes -- as a fly -- imagine yourself now living the life of a fly -- ok it's a short life -- but still - what is your main purpose in life - your raison d'etre -- to buzz around -- to bug the shit out of the other species -- buzz around the eyes of cows who try to smack you with their tails -- or buzz around human -- shit on window panes or T.V. screens -- but one day you land on the arm or the top of the head of a human and - -bang -- he slaps you with his hand -- and crushes you -- splashes you -- and you're dead -- what kind of a life is that -- so here you are again among the carcasses -- oh you're already back they say to you -- I mean those who are still there -- and again you wait your turn -- well this time your turn comes quick -- no reasons given -- you come back as a flower -- a lovely red rose in the suburban backyard of some nouveau rich on the coast of California -- and you're proud because you know you're beautiful and you smell good -- and the ladies who come to visit or to play bridge look at you and say -- oh what a beautiful rose -- but then one day the lady of the house tells the maid to go get flowers in the garden to put on the dining room table -- so here comes the maid with her clippers or whatever she uses to cut you off -- then she sticks you a a vase with some water -- and soon the water starts smelling foul and it's unbearable -- and you begin to wither and the lady of the house says to the maid get rid of that dead flower -- and the maid throws you in the garbage can and empties the smelly water in the sink -- and here you are back among the carcasses -- what kind of life was that -- now you wait again -- this time a very long time -- maybe a couple of centuries -- even more -- time does not exist in the carcass zone --- but finally the authorities call you and tell you that you are needed among the lions of Africa -- there is a shortage of virile male lions on the planet earth -- and so they are sending you back to be a lion in Africa -- so here you are in Kenyawith three sexy lionesses and a bunch of cubs -- and it's a good life -- every fifteen minutes -- this has been carefully observed by lion observers -- one of the lionesses comes over and begs you for a little humping -- so you rise from your dreamy slumber in the sun -- hump the lioness and go back to the shadow of the trees where you were dreaming of another life -- it’s a good life --- plenty to eat -- the lionesses see to that -- lots of gazelle meat -- and it's fun to play with the little cubs -- but one day a bunch of humans of different colors comes along -- the black ones are half naked and dance around -- the white ones wear funny colonial hats and have rifles --- but they are not here to make a carcass out of you - they want to capture you -- and they do with a big net -- then they stick you in a box and ship you to what they call the civilized world -- lucky for you -- they don't put you in the Buffalo zoo where you would have to spend the rest of your temporary earthly life in a cage wallowing in your own shit -- and with no sexy lioness to hump because now -- because of the lack of exercise -- you're incapable of getting a hard-on – no luck for you -- they put you in the San Diego zoo -- and build for you what they call a natural environment -- of course it's fake -- this is California -- there is nothing natural about this environment they build for you -- it's pure Hollywood decor – you know that - you know it's fake -- but you pretend it's really to make the humans feel good and happy so they don't send you to the Buffalo zoo -- but you're bored in this phony Walt Disney environment -- most of the time you sleep -- or pretend to be asleep -- especially when they bring their children to look at you in fear -- they would like you to look and act ferocious -- so once in a while a human pokes you in the ass so you can roar -- what kind of a life is that -- okay they bring you these big chunks of meat -- beef -- but one day they give you a piece of meat that comes from a sick cow and you die -- you die of the mad cow disease -- and you're back among the carcasses -- well I won’t go into all the possible animals or humans or vegetables or whatever you could come back -- imagine yourself as radish -- what kind of a life that would be -- or an artichoke -- okay a tree -- a big majestic tree -- that would be okay for a while -- but then all the other trees around become jealous because you're taller -- or because your trunk is bigger than theirs -- or your leaves are more beautiful -- then one day some humans come with a big saw and cut you down to pieces and burn you – what kind of a stinking life is that --and here you are back again among the carcasses -- and while waiting for your turn to come again you think -- I know dead carcasses are not supposed to be able to think -- but for the convenience of this story let's just say that they are capable of thoughts -- you think -- why can't I have a voice in the decision of what I will become next -- why can't I make up my own ... -- well I was going to say mind -- let's just say my own carcass -- and since you were once a writer in one of your transmutations -- you compose a very stylish message addressed to the authorities asking if maybe it isn't time for the carcasses to have a say in the process of their transmutation -- so this stirs up things in the carcass zone -- there are discussions -- debates -- polls -- and all sorts of things like that -- and finally the authorities agree -- so now the carcasses must come in front of them to discuss what they would like to become -- it's a very complex and lengthy process but eventually you decide what you want to become -- for instance me I often said that if I were to come back I would want to come back as a roman gladiator so that I could lead a revolt against the roman emperor -- or come back as a musketeer -- or as a French lover -- or as -- as -- as -- it's not easy to decide by oneself what one wants to come back as -- this is why I think the best thing to do here -- I mean here in this story -- is to let the readers decide themselves what they would like to come back as -- and if this is ever published -- let's say in the New Yorker -- then I would insist that the last page of the story be a blank page where the readers can write what they want to be in their next life -- of course someday -- the way science is making progress -- carcasses might be able to come back as objects -- imagine coming back as a stove or an electric razor -- or better yet -- as a golf club -- that would be an interesting life -- here you are a brand new Taylor Made titanium 360 driver with a graphite shaft -- not a bad life -- wellat least until the golfer decides that you're driving him crazy with the way you slice the ball and decides to buy a carcass reincarnated as a King Cobra 560 driver with an anti-slice shaft -- and throws you in the garbage -- imagine what a life that would be -- by the time I finished recording this story it was dark outside my window and the splendid view had vanished into the night –

[N.B. An extraordinary & prolific writer -- & even a notably experimental one – his decision taken twenty years ago, he tells us, was to “never again accept a blurb for one of my books from anyone – and I went even further – I decided to write my own blurbs.” The following profile, then, is taken from his blog, “the laugh that laughs at the laugh( ):

IN THE SANDBOX He constantly tortures himself to know who he is, he wants to know, wants to understand himself, but perhaps it is this ignorance of his self that is his strength, his destiny, never to understand himself and to remain always misunderstood ... He offers himself totally, his head, hands, mind, soul, zipper, all open, not to expose himself, but as an initiatory gesture ... This is his way of saying, I am here, everything I have is here take it ... Such ego as he may be said to have is the referred ego of those outside of him who give it back to him as they see him ... He is not generous in any received social, sentimental sense, it is simply his nature not an acquired virtue, a personal gesture, like the way he watches over others ... He is a child in a sandbox asking others to come and play, but no one comes to play with him ... More often than not, they mirror him, but the mirroring does not reflect, it obscures who he is ...”

The excerpt above is from a new collection of his writings, Carcasses, now in progress.]

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