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On Bolaño’s 2666 and Elevator Pitches

If you traffic in ideas for a living, chances are high that you don’t like those ideas until you can translate them into Elevator Pitches. I’m not sure how old the idea of The Elevator Pitch is but I’m under the (perhaps mistaken) impression that it’s grown to prominence in the relatively recent past, co-ascendant with the telecommunications boom. By all indications, entrepreneurship, creative enterprise, and that multi-disciplinary abstract, “The Next Big Thing”, are all at highs right now and all are dependent on The Elevator Pitch for their genesis, specifically at that point at which you’re asking others to contribute their money and/or talents. But while the Elevator Pitch is terribly useful for weeding out people whose ideas aren’t thought through, doesn’t it also weed out some things we like or, shit, need?

Don’t get me wrong: there’s a lot of unfocused, flabby stuff out there, too, and it’s well and good that that stuff dies before polluting our eyeballs and earholes. It does, however, seem that an entire generation threw out the patience baby with the Tarkovsky bathwater and now wants to sell us on pithy little THIS meets THAT narratives, exclusively–zombies meet dinosaurs, Jane Austen meets zombies, everything meets vampires and it’s all on acid as envisioned by Neveldine/Taylor.

On the other hand, I really do appreciate the Borges-ian condensation of a good pitch. Ideas become radiant when you remove exposition or execution and that’s the sublimated form in which they inspire us. That is why, for all the bitching I do about Elevator Pitches, I envy a good one for the power it exercises over our imaginations. It serves, in its ideal form, to crack the crust of the hardiest cynic and make her soul soar–as any good idea should do.

I can’t help but wonder though if there’s a bit of biological myopia at work in our image of idea conception. Borrowing the tree as visual, isn’t it possible that while some ideas start as saplings needing to blossom in multiple fertile grounds to create a healthy grove, while some are fully formed byzantine, branch-dense, trunk-less monstrosities that retain no glory as smaller components and furthermore need no peer group? Furthermore, is this preamble about elevator pitches my roundabout way of discussing the infuriating, intense dark mysticism of Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, a novel that after the halfway point tips the scales of the discursive into the waters of the profound?

Yeah, for sure it is.

There’s a lot going on in this book and I won’t try to summarize it but the centerpiece of this story is a 300 page depiction of the massive streak of rapes, murders of the women of the fictional border town of Santa Teresa (a horrifyingly realistic, slow-motion dramatization of this). This is all so patiently and meticulously described, victim by victim, it makes you feel like you’re living it, like you’re the adopted family of the literally hundreds of women whose deaths he chronicles. Their crude traumas, sloppy burials, and generally inconsistent circumstances communicate so little, they have to be cataloged one by one, in the hopes that the lack of pattern in these deaths on a small scale is a thin veil for a horror of a more massive scope.

The seemingly pointless first few hundred pages (well, not pointless, but excessively discursive) come into focus after we begin to count the dead one by one. Bolaño was just easing us into this itemization of reality, running us through the days and habits of some important people and then some not so important people, to help our eyes adjust to a dimension where things can’t be boiled down, where the simplest atomic truth is still big enough to choke Galactus. Bolaño died poor and under-appreciated but one can’t help but believe he knew this to be his fate all along, choosing as he did to hoist the aforementioned unwieldy tree of a hundred branches and no trunks, perpetually carrying it through doorways too narrow with patience and grace. One also can’t help but wonder how many people in his life turned off their receptors whilst he was in mid-sentence (jeez, myself included), believing he was a fountain of meanderings when in fact he was always in the middle of a Sistine Chapel.

God, imagine, pitching a book like 2666. It can’t and shouldn’t be done at least not in that positivist, effervescent light-bulb-over-the-head way. 2666 doesn’t shine a light, it perturbs in the way that someone telling you that you’d been adopted might; it doesn’t inspire the broad smile of a good idea but instead suggests the portal to a different viewpoint, a galactic-sized viewpoint that has the potential to nauseate as much as fascinate. In fact, that’s my pitch for 2666:

“It’s a thousand page portal to a God’s eye view of the world.”

“That sounds rad.”

“It is. Kind of. You’ll want to give up several times before you get there, though.”

“Uh… but it’s worth getting there, right?”

“Yeah, sort of. It’s not a majestic and peaceful god’s-eye-view. It’s a bum you out and make you feel complicit with the evil in the world god’s-eye-view.”

“Hmmm… so this is a little like Todd Solondz meets William Blake?”

“Thank you!”

“Wow. That sounds like an awful pitch for, like, 90% of the world.”

“I know but it is what it is. Arr-eye-pee, Roberto Bolaño. Thank you for the fascination and perspective, and sorry if we fucked up.”

“Arr-eye-pee, Bolaño. Sorry.”

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Vista 1: The Ex and The Alien

[Stardate 20101205]

She didn’t need me, he realized, walking through a dark, drenched countryside on this most ordinary of November nights. I walk here after dinner to help me digest. I do this with such regularity I don’t think it’s particularly effective anymore. What a time to think such a thing. It’s never when you think it’ll happen…

It’s not that she didn’t love me. I know she did or at least she said she did. She wasn’t lying about that. But need is something more. I need her. I want her to need me. Relationships are egalitarian by default, rarely betraying their imbalance. It’s like being a character in a D&D game; depending on your skill levels and experience, the same quanta of affection can be overwhelming or trifling. That same force makes the relationship an emotionally tenable idea while it exists and a painfully ironic one when it’s over.

I hear ducks from far off (or what sound to me like ducks) and it helps to distract me from this train of thought. Sometimes, the loud quack of a duck can make you laugh and take your mind off the worst shit if you let it. That’s the kind of mood I’m in, listening to animals and wishing for a psychic takeover by modest emotions.

When I see ice on the lake, it reminds me of her but not her when she let me go. Her when she was a new world — a gentle land ruled by 3 purple-lipped princesses with white bare feet, too delicate to stand on our profane Earth. I bring forth this vision and I suddenly feel calmer than a man witnessing the birth of his last child.

There was a time, at the beginning, when we spent every night together. At some point after we fell asleep, I’d feel her fingertips search my thigh until she clasped her hand around my balls. This relaxed me immeasurably, like a bath in warm water. In half-consciousness, I would imagine, that she derived some kind of power from this act. She held my nuts like they were a badge granting her access to some outer dimension otherwise restricted. If she wanted, she could present my nuts to St. Peter and it’d be sufficient currency to enter the heavens. That’s what I believed.

Through these seemingly insignificant gestures, she made me unbelievably confident. I could walk through walls. My mind cut through glass. There was an orb, a sephira, inside of my chest that came alight at the thought of these transfers of power. The smaller my mind became, the more this orb would grow, expanding out of my solar plexus, salving and aligning every organ and tissue that it passed on its way out of my skin to surround me, now parting my feet from the ground as it ballooned into a circumscribing vessel. This was my protection.

And just in time, for what should stand before me but H.R. Giger’s Alien, all sinewy armored musculature, acid blood stream, and deadly oral protrusion. Standing a full ten feet looming above me, I realized that it was in fact crouched for once its arms spread out and its legs straightened, it stood close to fifteen feet. Shit.

Alien reared back, spouting a fountain of acid skyward (perhaps just to frighten or mock me? Well, mission accomplished for I felt frightened and mocked and perhaps I peed a little.) In one fluid motion, it’s torpedo-shaped head shot back down, like a smooth igneous meteor, aimed for my face. I braced myself with clenched teeth for an impact that never came. The beast was shut down, knocked back on its ass by the resilience of my protective orb, my expanded sephira. Dear god: what would I do with this power? Would I be the envy of Ripley and several outer-space Marines (RIP)?

As it turns out, my powers were merely defensive in nature. All I could do, effectively, was deflect the creature’s powerful strikes, divert its caustic life’s blood, and simply stand my ground. Each attack more powerful than the last, I figured victory would be mine through Alien’s eventual exhaustion. Not that I knew anything about the physiology or endurance of the xenomorph. Perhaps it had reserves of energy beyond calculable time and this was, in fact, merely a warmup. I wondered if exertion somehow invigorated this species, causing it to gain as much energy as it expended in a feedback loop of horror that ends with my defenses compromised and my skin and vital organs similarly, gruesomely compromised.

It was Alien’s last attack that presented an option. Its death dildo probosces shot with such speed, the inverted energy knocked the beast back many dozens of yards into the cab of an ancient rust-corroded Ford F-150 with the concentrated rubbery force of an injurious racquetball. The beast was so contorted and malpositioned from its forced entry into the otherwise spacious seating area of an American truck, I suddenly realized I would have time to strike back provided I had the testicular fortitude to strike NOW.

Despite all good judgment, I charged the ten yards towards the beast. My orb, as I expected, made impact with the truck and moved it with relatively reasonable ease for a 5000 object. It was, however, on wheels so I dug in my heels and pushed, and pushed until movement begat momentum and at last the truck, with xenomorph in tow, hurtled towards a massive hole in the ground. Said hole is the portal to a subterranean scrapping factory whose many metal levels caved from the weight of the plummeting truck. The fall couldn’t be significantly dolorous to Alien but what lay at the base most certainly would be–a metal shredding maw automated to function upon contact. Indeed, upon contact the shredder began to operate without a shred of remorse, gnashing into alien flesh. I could hear the ungodly screech, like a pterodactyl impaled and descending down a long wood stake, somehow living to experience the pain with exponentially increasing acuity.

Mercifully, for me and it, the maw finished its work, its gears and teeth eaten by acidic spew. Smoke rose from the wreckage which looked beyond recognition and betrayed no visible sign of life, structure, or any other cognizable form of dignity. A wretched tangle of flesh and metal remained and Alien was gone. It was all thanks to her. Emboldening gestures of love and affection need not be reciprocated or matched to be real. Real enough to defeat a homicidal alien whose entire existence is predicated upon the hunting of frailer beings. Through this most improbable encounter, I realized that a subtle power builds by letting things just happen. Letting my partner touch my balls while I slept, letting her stay with me even though I knew it would end. Now, with a mangled alien corpse between us, I could let her go. Thanks for the memories, the strength, and an education on the perception (not the reality) of imbalance.

Despite this all, I’m gonna start running now, because I certainly saw Alien’s arm protrude forthright from the wreckage. Superhuman shielding forged by sincere affection is quite an ally but so’s a head start.

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Prologue to a story in progress.

{this story began circa 2005-6, perhaps. finished just the other day (July 2009)}

Brothers

Two men met in the hallway of their work and shook hands. Speaking to each other in slow cigarette-burned morning voices, they exchanged pleasantries.

“Pleasure to meet you. Name’s Jim.”
“Howdy…George. George Welles.”
“Taverner. Jim Taverner. It’s good to meet you.”
“Good to meet you.”
This is the interior of Silver. It is configured out of steel and blue, illuminated by white light. The place was designed in such a way that you would forget where you were particularly upon entering; it’s a queasy big breath of lightheadedness that smacked on one’s brain such that you felt as though this were your grandma’s basement when you were seven years old just as easily as it was the office where you work now that you are forty-two. It is damp, thick and gray outside for it is the end of summer and thunderstorms are prominent in this part of the South.
We are in Atlanta, Georgia. Traversing the virtually infinite hallway that separated the West and East wings of the building, George and Jim proceeded silently side-by-side.
“What do you think we’re doing today, George?”
“Watching a training film.”
“Alright, then.”
Jim was a little older but was built like a skinny young runner, which he was about three decades ago. He kept his light brown hair slicked-back and his cookie-duster mustache coifed and bushy. His face wore every one of his forty-seven years in a groove on his skin. George’s burly torso and thin, dark pate combined with his sloping shoulders got him the name Bull since he was in high school. They proceeded to the stone-walled archive in the basement. Jim and George were independent contractors finishing eighteen-months-long stints at Silver which required their particular expertise in the interpretation of topographic maps. Their analysis kept them focused on one particular strata, rock and dirt forging sub-harmonic coalescence whose contours can only be signified by their complements in adjacent strata which information they are forbidden to avail themselves of. As is planned for no one in their project division is made privy to integrations of the elements. It was not at all necessary that they know and probably merciful that they did not. That is why everyone at Silver has an awareness of their subdivision like they were seeing one inch ahead of their nose. How could anyone keep a life as life is known if made aware of Silver’s doings? There’s no answer to give. It’s not a possibility.
“You seen the message then?”
“That’s right. You come from the farther end.”
“Well, today I do. I ain’t never been in these corridors before now.”
“Me neither. I haven’t seen the film.”
“I haven’t seen it either. I have no idea.”
“It’s a silent film. It’s not pre-sound but it’s likely that it will be…silent.”
“That right?”
There were 154 bookcases, each 25 shelves high, for every row of which there were 14 total in the archive. Along the length of each shelf sat a good dozen boxes. They picked one of these and opened it.
“The filing catalog is 47G-1E9-I25O. That’s strata 47 sub G, family 1 paired E group 9 and cell I body 25 route O.” He opens the box, removes the tan leather case within and presents a reel of film. He stares at it as though he will trance it out of existence. “This must be it.”
“I’m not familiar with that at all. We confine our research to strata 13-16.”
“So this is technically against your protocol?”
“Yes, but this overlap is completely sanctioned. You know this strata but you ain’t never been down here, is that so?”
“If the notes hadn’t been so specific…I wouldn’t have known where to look. I thought this was an old storage floor. But if this is active data everything on this floor far exceeds our clearance. We shouldn’t be allowed down here.”
“If I’m not mistaken there was a coffee machine at that last corner.”
“I think I need some.”
“Alright now, that is a plan.”
He returned with two steaming cups of coffee and set them down in the main conference room at the foot of a four-foot tall tripod hoisting a great film projector with two great spools atop one end of the massive pill-shaped conference desk (which seats each of eighty-three men and women as comfortably as a handicapped restroom stall) that dominated the only available space in the archive that did not stock media.
They sat and drank nervous, large gulps of rich brown coffee. For some reason, that machine churned out the best coffee around – prepared with hefty amounts of roasted beans and just enough clean, pure water to thin the sludge. Sitting on either side of the projector, swallowing warm doses of caffeine, cream and sugar they felt the sheets of a heavy calming descend from the humming chassis that loomed above.
The projector was a huge gray steel assembly of antiquated mechanism, fourteen feet tall, over a quarter-century old and utterly pristine and functional as though it had emerged from a long suspension. Jim loaded the reel onto the spools and George flicked the great silver switch to start the projector, twisting the fine focus knobs until the shadows emerged sharp. Heavy machinery whirring behind images of clouds descended upon a verdant field punctuated by high slopes of the sort that one rolls down as a child. They were like great green dunes surrounded by a perimeter of thick forest and beyond that only a grey-white sky punctuated by the bright spots where sun emerged.
Almost immediately, the great white frame came into relief as did the two hammock swing structures that held end to end from the opposing horizontal bars that ran the width of this 4-story-tall structure. The two hammock swings were made of thick white rope and each held a man laying flat suited in the garb of a ninja with his face concealed, arm extended at an angle holding a sword at the ready pointed at the other – essentially these looked like great fish nets each holding a man inside. The two men at the zero position of their respective pendulum lay fifteen to twenty feet apart from one another, both focusing on the sky with a kind of serene awareness. And though their blades were drawn they held in abeyance – the way a dancer holds for her partner in a moment. Yet this moment has been magnified from a tumbling sand grain to the stride of a great continental landmass as through an electron microscope of the gods fueled by the clap of one thousand bursting stars. A wind blows and the hammocks sway but the men do not move. And so the two men waited, intent as poised triggers – just utterly still as some interminable interval passed.
This stillness generated a tension that amassed as a giant blue sphere between them which was visible only in the mind’s eye of an implied monk that hovered over the proceedings, detecting the flurry of activity that the still air hid. It is a kind of awakened mind director’s cut that he watches with his eyes closed.
The two brothers pictured here are powerful opposites, each the ambassador of a subtle dimension residing far below movement or breath. That they will battle one another is inevitable – they are simply the most recent representatives of a line of warriors that meets here…
These two dormant energies exist in opposition to one another, each seemingly tranquil in the face of its reflection. Both recognize themselves as necessarily generated aspects of a trans-dimensional moon – a locus of mutual energies breathed in by one and breathed out by the other. And the two brothers assembled here – harnessed in their swings and armed all through – are the North and South fronts of an indivisible atomic locus; balancing aspects whose emergent is a crystalline city that exists in the mind of anyone quiet enough to see it there when both brothers are present.
And so they begin to fight, legs dangling down from the net to get a running start along the dead grass like two brothers rising up to meet each other on opposing swing sets in the playground but who now have a much different notion of what’s to be done once at the apex and they meet instead in a gleaming silver flurry of blade spars.
Only a momentum just beyond what is easily generated is required in order to reach the physical proximity necessary for contact. Each strike unfolds a condensation of movements, angles of the blade reconfigure rapidly leaving a slime trail of previous motions, subverting the strictures of time to manifest four-dimensional shapes, geometric impossibilities whose structures will remain as imprints on the mind suspended in memory as the true extant artifacts of what took place here on this day.
Thus the one named Arashi-kage pitched the heft of his sword far back over his head to strike with the broad face of the blade but met air and a shave of cloth off the sleeve of his brother, Hebi-mei. Swiping from the side, Hebi-mei aimed at the kneecaps though Arashi-kage managed to remain several steps ahead jumping atop the face of the blade, kicking up the edge off which he leapt to snappily execute a standing three-hundred and sixty degree flip whose return momentum would send his blade into Hebi-mei’s belly. Hebi-mei, however had an imaginative speed only compromised by his relative lack of strength – he clasped the sword on either side between his palms. Rather than attempt to halt him, he took Arashi-kage’s momentum and swung backward toward the swing set, grasped the railing in two spots before every other one of his limbs grasped on and held, reabsorbing his diffuse energies, engaging his breath and heartbeat until they returned to the calm point where his faculties were under his control again.
Here there was a pause in the visible kinetics, followed by a wide light that broke across the clouds just resting on the horizon. The light was a panoramic sliver of amber and the sky looked to be on fire behind the blue cotton candy puffs that hid it. And yet above this, the sky revealed by degrees toward the horizon where before an eternal span of cloud now began to break into chunks and then wisps and this grand expanse of newborn baby’s eyes couldn’t possibly share the space with this row of fire but it did. And for some reason that row of sun that was ready to recede behind the lowest line of trees that an eye could see from the spot where the two brothers prepare their next strike (though Arashi-kage is bleeding really bad right now), that row of sun took too much of the scene from the boundless sky above, for what the eyes see is not what is there but only the shape of the eye as lit from without. The admixture of whatever carries light to the eye with whatever does not creates the photograph and when you wake from each successive daydream you animate movements from stillness and lighten shadows where before there was an unacknowledged blackness. Your mothers and fathers walk with you as ghosts even in sleep. There is a single photograph that develops in the mind and reveals itself through the return of memory; so in this way does the construction of reality reach completion through a slow comprehension. And if you were to breach the perimeter of this photograph, there is not a single thing in this world that can keep you from knowing the inner workings of Silver: why it’s there, how it’s run and—the matter of paramount importance—where to find the keys. And that is a fact, yet that has nothing to do with anything.
And it is getting so late right about now, shafts of light are fading. Arashi-kage is turning paler from all the blood he’s losing and there is a very thin interval of his consciousness that assesses the situation before him to determine that he can win this battle within three more strikes – a cut behind the knee, a cut in the crook of the arm and from that point along the arm toward the wrist. And it’s over. He is not far off the mark but while that is entirely possible in the realm of his skill, he can’t really appreciate the fact that he’s dying.
Hebi-mei can see Arashi-kage taking heaving breaths across the way and as well he can see the way the moon lights up the admixture of blood and rainwater collecting in a pool atop the tall blades of green grass directly below his net. It is difficult for him to understand why his innards shudder like he’s free-falling from thirty stories up in a gondola whose cables have just been cut, at that sudden point of recognition that something can be done if it was at all possible but those options are on another moon and this space we find our two brave warriors in is light years away from our limited conception of the celestial scope.
Space is bent from other angles. On a large evergreen overlooking the horrifying scene before us, three birds sit perched watching two clumped spider webs with prey inside swaying away and toward one another. These two brothers’ battle to the death does nothing to interrupt this silent evening. On a branch just ten yards above, removed from sight, they are causing about as much commotion as photosynthesis. The three birds twitter to one another, poking beaks beneath wings and wiggling their skulls as a breeze floods the tree, every branch swaying delicately as anchored to the earth by extension from the trunk. Twigs snap and fall to the ground when they age and petrify, their ability to handle the changes suddenly just.
Falling to their deaths, men compose whole tomes, complete in form, thorough in arc, surgical in execution, some having never committed a word to paper. To what higher clime do these evaporated thoughts arise? Two brothers lay bleeding on the grass, the warm night air perfuming crimson hues on dry flaxen blades.
Their coffee cups were long since empty with moist grinds collected at the base. The two men turned to look at each other directly in the eyes for the first time since they met this morning.
“Was this his dream?”
“Yes.”
George removed his glasses.
“How did you know that?”
“How did you know that?”
“Are you playing games with me? Did the advisors give you an upper hand on this?”
“Of course not. I could ask you the same thing, y’know.”
“Sure…right.”
“We would never know, of course. And what good would it do to know anyway? That tells us nothing.”
“We could sit here speculating about the content of the alien strata until we up and die.”
“You said it, my friend.”
“So what now, then?”
The two men stood and extended their hands to shake and moved in to hug as well. George spoke to Jim.
“Dreams reveal nothing but themselves.”
“All brotherhoods are eternal and entire despite manifestation.”
“Manifestation is a by-product. A symptom. Not an illusion but not reality either.”
“Unity is eternal.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Thank you.”
They left Silver, entered their respective luxury American cars, and drove into the warm night. Clouds loomed overhead and fireflies speckled orange and amber on the deep green fields. Thick air mingled with exhaust rose up to the sky like a vapor soon to be drowned by the falling rain.

END.

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