sleeping through the zeitgeist: gary indiana’s homage to rilke

Gary Indiana’s novel Do Everything in the Dark begins with an open nod to Ranier Maria Rilke’s novel The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, but where Rilke’s Paris is the departure point for a fully realized inward journey of the self, Indiana’s cities — New York, Rome, Paris— are but way stations and holding pens we glimpse on a nightmare journey to the end of the Western night.  

                                                       Part One

The Debris Field



So people do, as the poet remarked, come here in order to live. Our necropolis with anvils of memory chained to every street and building, every tourist postcard view. All its sunsets and bridges and mutilated dawns. Haunted house of mortal dreams, ectoplasms flickering in obsidian windows. People come here to live, after all. You’d think they were here to die. Well, aren’t we all. I will achieve grandeur, proclaimed another poet, but not in this apartment.



Last year I lived in Paris. Now I live here, more or less. People tell me things. I listen. I watch and wait. I have discovered the junction of lapidary beauty and sublime ugliness known as the spirit of the age. Like stout Cortez or fat Balboa, whose vicious eyes popped wide in wild surmise, however that dumb poem goes.

Zeitgeist is a historian’s favorite hallucination: a confidence trick, quanta leaping over the specific. "These people lived and died clutching statistically measured expectations to their breasts, delusions wired into their brains by lulls in the convulsions of time." We missed the big picture because our eyes locked on some whirling dervish in the lower left corner. All of us, except a few far-thinking individuals, avatars who shift history with their bare hands, starvation protests, atom bombs, religious manias, or the raw will to power.

The rest of us were caught by surprise when we woke up buried to our necks in shit.

Let’s assume, at least, that the big picture isn’t a rectangle, a film of watered silk in a frame, or a mastermind’s jump cut, but something more like an urn on a mantelpiece.

Not everyone gets buried. Some burn.

Last spring, an eternity ago, as I passed in front of the Brasserie Lipp, a boy hawking Le Monde Economique hollered, "Bush assassiné! Bush assassiné!," hoping to whip up trade. People going in and out of Lipp applauded him….

— from Gary Indiana, Do Everything in the Dark  



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