“Klosterman’s essays matter, because—despite focusing on a bunch of middle-aged-white-guy-things—their content tackles well-known subjects. These are not meditations on obscure punk records; these are treatises on KISS, for fuck’s sake. It’s like pulling David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster from a black backpack covered in Toy Machine patches and poorly rendered Sharpie doodles. Klosterman pulls the literary equivalent of Jeff Koons’ art—validating your love of something with nary a pat on the head in sight.”
“Florida is nothing if not a haven for builders and dreamers, down low where the laws are looser and the warm weather means construction season never ends. Cheap swampland is converted into mansions and country clubs, orchards into a Magic Kingdom, the Everglades into sugarcane fields.
How American is it, this rush to build in an inhospitable place? To turn aside nature and decide to build atop it? How darkly, cruelly, perfectly American is it that a “housing first” approach to ending homelessness in a state with a dire need and an obsession with building is met with fierce hostility, as Gerard chronicles?
That all of those pricey lands, those millions of dollars in assets, will soon be washed away hasn’t slowed their proliferation. This, too, is America in microcosm; it is a blind hunger for lucre and a blind faith for solutions, a bet that either the payout will be worth it or American ingenuity will beat back the seas. Sunshine State does not provide easy answers to any of the questions it dredges up, nor is it meant to; it is left to the reader—and the nation—to sift through the mangrove mud and crab carapaces.”
“Mania is, as Leite described, neon. If I am full-blown manic, I am All; I am the Greatest Writer Who Ever Lived, I am a Deity and, as such, require My Pronouns and Titles to be capitalized. I rive skulls, rend nature, exert Myself upon the universe, Intelligence and Sex and Creativity, a Perfect Creature, Napoleon, immune to even heat-death, My mind red-shifting, driven by murmuring voices which I can hear but never make out. I am a Run-On Sentence, a Living James Joyce Passage, and I file essays with 386 word lede sentences, which are, really, as apt a metaphor as I am able to offer, a truly definite porthole, in My Indomitable Opinion; I am Ego, Great and Powerful and Right Ego, gloriously and deliriously thrilled with Me, Myself, the complete and utter inverse of bitter depression, I’m not good enough, not smart enough, not pretty enough, flipped and reversed and shot screaming up in to the night like a bullet, a Catherine Wheel, a cruise missile, a Saturn V, the Immolating Flight of the Wendigo, the very thoughts and prayers and animus of the Earth and creation itself, King of the Towering Peak with tears lashing My eyes, and everything laid out before Me, for Me, to be manipulated by Me; I am Galactus.”
Blatt’s approach sounds unorthodox, because, as he so aptly notes, we are used to studying literature in a granular way. We spend days, weeks, months on the reading and analysis of one work. We draw conclusions about culture and place until we exsanguinate it, and then we place it within a broader canon. What Blatt’s numbers can do is study the aggregate, massive swaths of work that can reveal broader trends than any single book can. More data, as far as science is concerned, is always better. The more points one can make coalesce into a picture, the better the odds of that picture being accurate.
Sara Patin (L) and Lindsey Tindall, the body-swapping leads of Mary Shelley Sees The Future. Photo by Matthew Gregory Hollis.
In response to The Runaways’ body swap play, Mary Shelley Sees The Future
It is not the greatest ambition of humanity—certainly one of, though, and perhaps 1B for pure, uncut, eye-misting altruism, and 1A for difficulty, because it is impossible, this wondrous drive, noble and impossible, quixotic—but it is one of those things, like discovery and invention and society and culture and the language with which to express our understanding of them, to spread them like glorious viruses, toss them out into the world like seeds where some—falling not upon cold indifferent stone, offered up like a sacrifice, or on the road, to be devoured by birds, but in amenable conditions, open, inviting, yearning, ready, the best of what we can be—flower from the blood like anemones, which makes us distinctly human, which provides one of those separations from Nature—explication from the web!—so crucial to our concept of ourselves.
Yes, we can disentangle ourselves from tooth and claw, can even place—with a child’s precision, but also that pure, burning jejune thirst for knowledge, a wildfire growing until it can serve as signal and signature, a neon bar sign amongst the very stars—ourselves in the great and horrifying math of physics, can comprehend hurricanes and the mechanisms of birth, can model with reasonable confidence systems too Jovian or miniscule to comprehend, much less observe, but we cannot ever truly know one another. All that we know of each other is superficial in that it is curated; one may deeply know another, to the point where such a ken is even mutually accepted, acknowledged, appreciated, sustaining like air, but one can never know how it feels, how it feels to be another being.
Empathize? Yes. Know? No.
~ ~ ~
And here, in that impossible, noble goal, then, is the genesis of the body swap! The marvelous trope of comedies and cartoons and cartoonish action movies, the usually magical, almost always inexplicable—it’s so impossible, why not hang it on a wish, on a whim, on science with no explanation needed, or even asked for—arrival of ourselves into the flesh of another, an intoxicating idea both in its absurdity and its wish fulfillment, the chance to explore the unknown tantalizingly close to us, the experiences of others.
Imagine it, the chemicals washing over and around the unfamiliar sulci … your eyes open, but they open wrong, inexplicably, ineffably, but definitely wrong, like the lids are a touch too heavy, the lashes a millimeter too long; the readouts are wrong, an inchoate sense of corporeal self, taken so long for granted, missing, the brain reeling and spiraling in an uncanny expanse, racing along alien neurons with the screaming ego of a lost fighter pilot, channeled along canals and pathways carved by a force no longer present, beholden to an architecture familiar yet horrifying, and it comes, information … the distal reports are wrong, as if the fleshy tips of the fingers are too far from the bone, as if the limbs were not your limbs but bizarre attachments, the very flesh you inhabit—and it is not, you realize, your flesh—a suit of armor, a cuirass for a rib cage and objective, dead helmet for a skull, flesh without soul, body without ipseity, and you are both yourself and someone else, sometimes yourself to you, always someone else to others, a horrific amalgam in the mirror, in windows, in puddles …
Armed with the very flesh of someone else—their skin, sex, mien—we could perhaps build something like the Total Empathy with which we could end wars and hate and love. Placed into the body of a woman, a man could see how said body affects her every movement and moment, a silly sack of a thing inconceivably turned lodestar for societal navigation; inserted into the form of her mother, a daughter could feel the crushing burden of love and responsibility, thrust into situations which will assuredly drown her, searing into her memory what it takes to keep one’s head above it. Catapulted back in time, the supposed failings of the ancestors that doomed us can be revealed as grievances of circumstance, shirkers of duty and common sense, so much more pusillanimous than us, in the now, revealed to be the victims they—as we—actually are.
What understanding! What intimacy that we could achieve, the very same intimacy which also makes the body swap the tool of sublime horror, the ultimate subterfuge, the penetration of the very last sacred space, your cathedral sacked and your life burning with some usurper dancing behind your eyes. In that fear is perhaps expressed the failings of the body swap, the Noble Goal—Total Empathy! The Last Understanding!—whipsawed by two terrible realities: The first, that the body is not enough; how to understand a being with nothing but their useless body, unanimated by their thoughts, un-innervated by their feelings and desires? The differences of sex and age and race and health and time can be felt corporeally, yes, but there are obvious limits to what suffers the anatomy as opposed to the self. The second a failing not of the device, but of ourselves, the terrible truth that many—if not most—would find the level of intimacy required of Total Empathy to be too much, a breaching of walls which we simply would not allow to come down, even if our psyches could take it.
And so we laugh, we nod, we gasp and squirm in shock, the body switch kept at arm’s—whether ours or someone else’s!—length, deepest and most unsettling and perhaps most elucidating of tropes and desires. The Noble Goal of Total Empathy is kept impossible, our desperate, honest attempts to reach across the cureless divide our most divine human ambition.
“There was a benevolent power that drove Rider’s skating, an application of force with the kind of precision and appeal normally limited to conversations about boxers and smart missiles. He struck difficult tricks with such seeming effortlessness that it requires repeated viewings—maybe two, or even three or four—to register just how fucking fast he is skating, how high he is snapping, how tall the ledges and rails he is blessing are, how truly ridiculous every trick is, a man launching himself with a blink-and-you-miss-it savagery before alighting like a premier danseur.“