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  


judge holden issues a verdict (and thereby underwrites the world view of this blog)

He pressed the leaves of trees and plants into his book and he stalked tiptoe the mountain butterflies with his shirt outheld in both hands, speaking to them in a low whisper, no curious study himself. Toadvine sat watching him as he made his notations in the ledger, holding the book toward the fire for the light, and he asked him what was his purpose in all this.

The judge’s quill ceased its scratching. He looked at Toadvine. Then he continued to write again.

Toadvine spat into the fire.

The judge wrote on and then he folded the ledger shut and laid it to one side and pressed his hands together and passed them down over his nose and mouth and placed them palm down on his knees.

Whatever exists, he said. Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent.

He looked about at the dark forest in which they were bivouacked. He nodded toward the specimens he’d collected. These anonymous creatures, he said, may seem little or nothing in the world. Yet the smallest crumb can devour us. Any smallest thing beneath yon rock out of men’s knowing. Only nature can enslave man and only when the existence of each last entity is routed out and made to stand naked before him will he be properly suzerain of the earth.

What’s a suzerain?

A keeper. A keeper or overlord.

Why not say keeper then?

Because he is a special kind of keeper. A suzerain rules even where there are other rulers. His authority countermands local judgements.

Toadvine spat.

The judge placed his hands on the ground. He looked at his inquisitor. This is my claim, he said. And yet everywhere upon it are pockets of autonomous life. Autonomous. In order for it to be mine nothing must be permitted to occur upon it save by my dispensation.

Toadvine sat with his boots crossed before the fire. No man can aquaint himself with everything on this earth, he said.

The judge tilted his great head. The man who believes that the secrets of the world are forever hidden lives in mystery and fear. Superstition will drag him down. The rain will erode the deeds of his life. But that man who sets himself the task of singling out the thread of order from the tapestry will by the decision alone have taken charge of the world and it is only by such taking charge that he will effect a way to dictate the terms of his own fate.

I don’t see what that has to do with catchin birds.

The freedom of birds is an insult to me. I’d have them all in zoos.

That would be a hell of a zoo.

The judge smiled. Yes, he said. Even so.

— from Cormac McCarthyBlood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West