"Osedax is a genus of deep-sea siboglinid polychaetes, commonly called boneworms, zombie worms, or bone-eating worms, or bone-eating snot flowers. Osedax is Latin for 'bone-eating', the name alluding to how the worms bore into the bones of whale carcasses to reach enclosed lipids, on which they rely for sustenance."
My existence is an act of displacement: air pockets, other bodies, kitchen appliances, important tax documents cannot occupy the space I occupy. And so they go elsewhere. And sometimes I move them elsewhere. To where they ought not to be.
But don’t feel special. Don’t flatter yourself. You’ve done the same; you do the same.
That time you told a girl you really liked her haircut and meant it only as a nice thing to say to a person whose company you were enjoying and whose haircut was legitimately cool in a post-punkish asymmetrical way, but typical social cues dictate that she take it as sexually-motivated, and she did, because a man is not supposed to compliment a strange woman unless he’s trying to fuck her and a woman is not supposed to respond to a strange man’s compliment in any mode other than “flattered” and “seriously open to the idea of you taking me somewhere semi-private and splitting me open beautifully like a pomegranate”. And she did everything right. And you had another beer or two and then pretended you were sober enough to drive home. But really you just sat on a beach in Asbury Park, and it was not a moment of particular importance.
I remember one moment very clearly from my high school days: I only ever in my entire scholastic career received one detention. It was the tail end of my senior year, and I was going through this weird mystic Buddhism phase because I read way too many Beat poets and had an exceptionally eccentric English Lit. teacher who was all about “waking us up”, and so I remember spending the entire 45-minute detention staring at the clock and trying to will time (and the physical clock itself) out of existence.
If I had to place Frederick Seidel in a literary lineage (and because I spent four years in an undergraduate English program, I have to), I’d draw a direct line between him and Oscar Wilde. Because what Seidel excels at is exactly that at which Wilde was master. Not wit, no — Siedel’s chief and perhaps only failing is his wit. His jokes are almost uniformly clunkers. His comedic timing is off and often heavy-handed. Rather, what Seidel shares with Wilde is an uncanny knack for presenting fully in a single line both the joy and horror of a life given over to decadence. Especially the decadence of consumption, of being a consumer. Like the tobacco addict considering for the first time his cigarette: knowing the wild reeling pleasure of the head rush, and also that his lungs are reduced to ashes with each drag.
Tentative Albums of the Year, in no particular order: (Part I)
The Mountain Goats — Transcendental Youth
Comment: It’s not Darnielle’s best work (that honor goes, I think, to The Life of the World to Come), but it is a phenomenal album. Between the radically-empathetic pop of “Amy AKA Spent Gladiator 1”, the tender sorrow of “Harlem Roulette”, and the smooth catharsis of the title track, Transcendental Youth is classic Mountain Goats. And what, you ask, is “classic Mountain Goats”? It’s hyper-literate, hyper-uncool “rock” music that goes straight for the head and the heart without giving a single fuck about anything other then genuine human emotional experience. You don’t play a Mountain Goats album for your friends to show off your cred; you play a Mountain Goats album for your friends because you’ll never be able to communicate with the same eloquence and truth that Darnielle musters.
Frank Ocean — Channel Orange
Comment: It took me a very long time to get into Channel Orange. I was underwhelmed by Nostalgia, Ultra. Ocean’s features on other people’s tracks sounded like little more than the work a more-talented-than-usual R&B vocalist. But Channel Orange is an unabashed masterpiece, when you get down to it. It’s soul music in the best way possible: sexual, sorrowful, fettered to the dumb material of earth while looking terribly toward a heaven that may or may not exist.
Kendrick Lamar — Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City
Comment: Listening to Good Kid feels more like reading a great novel than enjoying a classic hip-hop record. But Kendrick Lamar’s latest is a little bit of both: the keen, careful lexicon of a studied writer meets the brash power of a rising rapper. The result is a stunningly cohesive, achingly beautiful masterwork. There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding the album, stemming from the album’s early designation as a “classic”. Critics ask if we can rightly assign the distinction to an album only months (if not days) after it’s release. I ask: Does it matter? It’s an interesting and necessary debate, but, at the end of the day, it changes nothing about the immediate impact of Good Kid. Albums like this are rare. Even if history is unkind to Lamar — even if he finds himself consigned to discount bins and flea markets — we’d do well to remember that H.D. suffered a somewhat similar fate for decades after her death. Am I out of line comparing a young rapper to a master of Modernist poetry? Maybe, but only maybe.
It is also the achievement of the poet to constantly defend his life choices against the slings and arrows of critics both real and imagined. Mostly they are imagined; mostly they sugar grapefruits at the narrow breakfast table and resemble a father, someone’s father – perhaps not our father, but a father nonetheless.
And what, he asks under the pornographic actor’s mustache, above the wild spread of today’s newspaper, will you do for money?
And why, he questions through the hot veil of showersteam from his perch on the closed lid of the toilet bowl, does it even matter, what you do? Who is reading you?
Me. I am.
This is not as narcissistic as it sounds. Or perhaps it is narcissistic in a different way: narcissistic in the way of crucified Christ’s decision to be mankind’s lamb. When mankind didn’t ask him. When mankind didn’t really want it all that badly.
Not to say the poet is a Christ-figure. But to say that there is something Christlike in anyone’s decision to rise from bed most mornings.
Writing about Answer to Job, Jung told Walther Hsadel that “the motive for [the] book was an increasingly urgent feeling of responsibility which in the end I could no longer withstand.” Maybe this is just some atavistic romanticism coming out at the mouth (or fingertips, computer keys, what have you —) but I often feel this way, too. I’m not writing because I love writing (although, I do love writing). I’m writing because it is a responsibility into which I somehow blundered, and I was raised by a Catholic-with-the-work-ethic-of-a-Protestant Father whose motto might as well have been labor omnia vincit.