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The Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life
Edited by Andrei Codrescu
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the making and unmaking of person

A Stutter
by Aaron Petrovich


I like to think of people as people.
      I like to think of women for example as people before I think of them as women. I am a man. When I think of a person, 'woman,' I tend to think of my own self, 'man.' I don't like to think like that. When I meet a man, I like to encounter him as a person, before I encounter him as a man. As soon as I think of him, 'man,' I begin to treat him as a man might treat a man. As a man might treat a straight or a gay man. Or woman. As a straight man might treat a straight or gay man or woman. I am a straight man. When I encounter a gay or straight man or woman, I like to think of him or her as a person, and not as a straight or gay man or woman. Or as a likable gay or straight man or woman. Or unlikable. I like to think of unlikable people, 'people,' before I decide that I do not like them. I am an unlikable straight and white man. And unfashionable. I am an unlikable and unfashionable straight and white man. When I encounter a fashionably gay or fashionably straight white or black or Latino or a fashionably gay or straight south east Asian man or woman wearing easily recognizable apparel for example, in SoHo, for which apparel they have exchanged borrowed money at ridiculously inflated rates to become the walking advertisement of, I try to think of them, initially, as people, before I think of them as an advertising campaign.
      I try to think of people as people before I think of people as advertising campaigns. Or billboards. When I think of a person as a streaming ad campaign, or a billboard, or a projection screen, I tend not to like them. I often end up thinking of people as commercial accessories, but only after I have thought of them as people. After I have thought of a person as a marketing symbol, I cease thinking my own thoughts, and begin thinking, instead, in symbols.
      I like to think of myself as a person who thinks his own thoughts, before I start thinking in symbols.
      I don't like thinking in symbols.

South of Houston

I am standing south of Houston, I mean only two or three short steps south of Houston, on Broadway, when a person whom I think of at first as a person approaches me. As she is approaching me, I begin to think of her as a woman. As soon as I think of her, 'woman,' I think of my own self, 'man.' And then I notice how she is bent at the neck and studying the imperfections on the sidewalk as if the sidewalk is a great peril that she could fall into, so the thought occurs to me, of her, 'old,' and, consequently, to and of myself, 'young.' And then I get her scent, which is an artificial scent, which she has sprayed upon herself, from a bottle. Or a can. Or which she has rubbed on herself, under her arms on her self, with a stick. Or which scent she has sprayed above herself into the air, and then let the scent settle into her brittle hair.
      I'm not sure what to make of her artificial scent, but she's got Upper East Side written all over her apparel. I watch television, and the people that I have seen on my television who are made to appear Upper East Side, dress precisely as this bent old artificially scented woman is dressed, and as such, I think of and to myself, 'downtown.'
      'I am,' I say to myself, 'so downtown.' I mean, I like to think of myself as a person, using my own thoughts, before I think of myself as a symbol, but right now my impending interaction with this Upper East Side hag is causing me to use culturally contrived thoughts, in my own head. I don't like what these thoughts are thinking of her, for me, as she begins to speak to me.
      She is speaking to me I would like to think using her very own thoughts, conjured in the tumultuous cavern of her very own head, but she is also speaking to me as if I am here for this express purpose. To be spoken at by her. I think she thinks of me like that. Like this. Like a thing which is not me. By which I mean to say, symbolically. She needn't say, 'Pardon me,' or, 'Excuse me,' or, 'May I ask you something,' or, 'My apologies, young man,' - the function of our introduction has already occurred in each of us independently, symbolically - she says, instead, "Where's that film festival?" and I'll have to admit, this is not an inappropriate question. This is a perfectly reasonable question asked of me two or three short steps south of Houston, and I am asking her in return, "You mean the TriBeCa film festival?" and she is telling me, "Yes."
      "That would be," I am telling her, "In TriBeCa," and I didn't mean for it to come out like that. I didn't intend to give it a tone. I'd really rather get along with this person, but she isn't a person, she's an entitled old Upper East Side bitch, and I am a precocious young and presentationally strung out cog of the over-lubricated down town machine who has apparently been placed on this particular intersection at this particular time in her life in a state of suspended animation by the farting and weary Upper East Side deities for the express purpose of fielding the wheezing inquiries of their skittish, earthen born snitch, and so we're kind of forced to speak to each other like that. Like this. In these opposing tones. Confrontationally.
      "You'll have to go," I am telling her, "Downtown," and she is telling me, "But I am downtown," and then I say, "Well, you'll need to go farther down town," and I point to her in that direction, which she stares into as into the abyss, or through the gates of hell, or into the fringe of an enchanted forest, into the dark and dangerous fringe, and then she looks right back at me, and I look into her eyes as if into the eye of a hurricane, or into the white foam of a tsunami, and I am standing on that beach, and then she says, "I am South," she is telling me, "of Houston," and I can't really disagree with that.
      There is some truth to that.
      The truth to that sweeps over me, like a fierce wind.
      We are precisely three feet south of Houston.
      I can't think of anything to say in response to that.
      We kind of leave it like that.

People whom I have Never Met

I'll have to say that I actually like people. I think its safe to say that I like all people, especially the one's I've never met. There are all kinds of people, and I am particularly fond of that kind of person whom I have never met.
      These are all kind people, these people whom I have never met.
      I've never met a person that I didn't like until I met them.


I've tried the door, but the door won't open, so I'm pressing my face against a tinted window to the right of the door, in Chinatown. I am holding my hands to the left and to the right of my face in the way that people hold their hands, when people hope to see through tinted windows. Forsythe is standing several feet behind me, staring into the glass.
      My eyes are against the tinted window, and my hands are keeping the sun out of my eyes, but all I can make out about this window is its tint.
      "I can't see."
      What I need, Forsythe has informed me, more than anything else, is a drink, but we are in Chinatown. We have walked up Chinatown and we have walked down Chinatown - we've been all over Chinatown - in pursuit of a drink, and we were beginning to believe that drinking, for the Chinese, is not a destination. Then we were drawn to this glass window by white Chinese lettering and a picture of a martini glass, which symbolic sentence reads, from our perspective at least:
      "I can't see anything in there."
      The martini glass is painted in a fixed topple with an infinite and I'll have to say an alluring drop of white martini juice dripping from its tipping lip. Forsythe was right about my need for a drink, at least. I am drawn to this drink. The drop of this drink is drawn in white outline and is a little larger then my head. I have placed my smallish head literally and with some metaphoric hope inside of a splash of martini juice, and now I am hanging, like this, from Forsythe's perspective at least, from the tipped lip of a martini glass.
      "Don't these people drink?"
      "Cultural differentiation," Forsythe is telling me, "is the consequence of symbolic representation of meaning." When Forsythe speaks, he most often speaks aphoristically, and we all try to forgive him for that. He speaks infrequently, so we are most often pleased to hear him speak, bearing little mind to what he actually says with his speaking.
      I step back and can see him reflected from behind me off of the window in front of me, behind which window a Chinese woman or two Chinese women or perhaps even three Chinese women entertain a singular Chinese business man with a stiffly gestured impersonation of two under-groomed white men engaged in a barren exercise in destination therapy, in Chinatown.
      "There's probably some people in there."
      I am pointing at the window and Forsythe is smiling at me, at my reflection of me, from behind me.
      "They're probably enjoying some martini juice."
      In reflection, Forsythe is a composition of light.
      "There's probably a man in a business suit with a white shirt and a red tie sipping on martini juice on the other side of that glass."
      Forsythe is staring at the window as if he can see through the window - as if he is light, passing through the window - and is meeting the eyes of a Chinese man who is learning all about the advantages of Advanced Capitalism in a Chinese bar in Chinatown, in America.
      "Why don't you ring the bell?"
      "There's a bell?"
      "Why don't you ring it?"
      "There's a door bell."
      There is a bell on the door that I have been unable to open.
      "Do you think that I should ring it?"
      Forsythe is silent, making eye contact on a ray of light with a man whom I have imagined in a bar in Chinatown.
      "What if they don't open it?"
      "They will."
      "What if they don't?"
      "What if they do or don't? What if they let us in and sell us a drink? What if they ignore us? What if they're laughing at us right now, and the doorbell sends them into fits of hysteria, which will sound distant to us, out here, on the sidewalk. Alone. What if the bell awakens an ancient samurai, who will come from the door as from a space-time portal, and take our breath away.
      "What if a salmon steak, curing on the rooftop in the Chinese manner, falls from the roof, and hits you on the head."
      Sometimes, we are not so pleased with Forsythe when he speaks.
      I ring the bell.
      No samurai are awakened.
      No salmon steaks fall.
      We hear a lock release, in chorus with a steady buzz, which sounds distant to us, out here, on the sidewalk.
      We open the door and enter into a lesser light, accompanied by a bright beam of sunlight.
      After the door closes, and as our eyes adjust to the lesser light, in the absence of sunlight, suspended bottles of clear and brown spirits actualize before our wide white eyes.
      And now a pair of eyes, also, actualize.
      These spirits and these eyes are not the spirit and eyes of a samurai, but nonetheless they do seem to come from another dimension. Forsythe was right about that at least. They do manage to take our breath away.
      We are breathless, for a moment, as we see the bartender, and his two actual eyes, in this new light.


Sometimes, when I am trying to locate my position within humanity- when I am lost in this humanity, and am trying to understand myself as a person of humanity, and not as a person individuated from humanity - when my individuation from the humanity that I am lost in leaves me feeling like a symbol of myself - an abstraction from my essential self - and not my actual self - I like to think of humanity in tribes. Sometimes, when I am trying to pass off my symbolic self as my actual self to the humanity that I have become abstracted from, I like to think about the origins of humanity, when humanity was running around in tribes.
      When I am walking, at times, down Broadway, as now, crossing Canal, and am immersed in all of these other individuals also walking, walking and shopping, walking and shopping and without regard talking, talking into cell phones, or to one another, or to themselves, or speaking occasionally also to me, offering me hot dogs, or hand bags, or 'organic products', or offering me insights into their particular understandings of the organization of the cosmos, or into the importance of their own abstracted selves, or presenting me relevant evidence regarding an impending paradigm shift in second comings, or in unidentified flying objects, or other events otherwise evidentiary of the end of the world, I like to think of the origins of humanity, when humanity was organized by tribes and not by ideas. Or by ideologies also organized. Or nations. Or economy. Or corporations. Or by ideas structured in time. Or, well, I like to think of humanity running around with his franks and his beans hanging out, discovering fire.
      I like to think of him, if he is a man, warming his testicles before an open fire, when all he could know about fire was that fire was a mystery that he could not describe.
      I like to think of the origins of humanity displaying her breasts, before her breasts were removed from her, by primordial advertising executives, and used to sell automobiles. Don't get me wrong: I happen to rather like breasts. I am attracted to breasts, but I wonder if I would be less attracted to breasts than to the women they are attached to, if breasts had not been removed from women, as the Essence of Woman, by our Cro-Magnon advertising men, and used to sell wristwatches.
      I am not attracted to wristwatches.
      I would like to think there was a time in the history of humanity when all we could understand about time was that time was a mystery, before we began to wear it on our wrists. I wonder if we began to measure time around the same time that we began to represent women as breasts, and ourselves as symbols, to expanding societies. I'll bet there was a moment in the history of humanity, I mean some insignificant moment, some forty thousand years or so, some small stutter, so to speak, in the discourse of infinity, some one hundred and sixty thousand generations or so, a long time ago, before we were able to take parts of ourselves and present them as our actual selves, to expanding societies. I wonder if our own essential selves were once a mystery.
      I wonder if our own mysterious selves were once enough to warm us, before an open fire.
      I'll bet we once were crouched, cradled by the rhythm of time, before a mysterious fire, when we ceased, suddenly, to experience time as a rhythm, and began to think of it, instead, as a sequence. I'm no anthropologist, but I like to think of that precise time, if indeed there was such a time, as the end, also, of essential time. I like to think that time as the beginning of sequential time, and, consequently, I like to think of the present culture as sequential time's end.
      I'm not sure what this is doing for my location in humanity, but I am presenting relevant evidence regarding the end of the world.
      Pay attention.


I am attempting to incorporate, into my day, a carefree, structure free, tumbleweed ideology. I am trying out this life-as-in-origins naiveté, this carpe diem, rolling stone, dusty wind sort of day; what I'm after here is a let-the-day-take-you-wherever-the-day-may day, which is an exercise, I am finding, in intellectual cowardice, I mean a profoundly bankrupt excursion into moral irresponsibility, because these wide-eyed desert winds have just tumbled me out of the desert and directly into the path of a stampeding rush hour, in TriBeCa.
      We have this hour in Advanced Capitalism, in excessive population pockets in Advanced Capitalism, which we like to call rush hour. This is not an actual
     hour, but nonetheless the rhythm of time has cycled me into it. This rush hour is a predetermined and sustained moment of controlled commuter chaos, at the end of a market driven day, which is not, of course, an actual day, but which is a part of the day that I might have avoided, if I had bothered to stop and think about it. This contrived hour at the end of these contrived days is a programmed, proto-cataclysmic redistribution of humanity, which is not a force of nature, but which exacts on us the same sort of force exacted on us, from outside of us, by nature.
      If this is a flooding river, then I am being drawn into it. It is composed of people, not running water, but we are caught up in it. We accept it as an inevitable force, even though we're the one's that have created it. I am submitting to it as listlessly as to any old external force, even though I am a member of the culture that has created it.
      These are raging waters, these waters I've had a hand in creating.
      They are taking me in ass to pelvis and elbow to elbow. I am ass to elbow with all of this other rushing flood debris. My ass is to the masses and I am making faces. I am making faces at all these other people here, other people also making faces.
      We all wear this look on our faces of grim determination, that we will survive the madness we've created.
      I wonder what sort of madness led me to believe that I could live an original life, by which I mean to say, a life-as-in-origins life, in the context of a culture that can create a force as great as nature.
      Mine is a madness as great as the madness that has created me.


I am a Stutter

I am racing around after nightfall with Forsythe, replacing the American flags we find on Suburban Utility Vehicles with these little flags we've made of Saudi Arabia, which is an idea recommended to Forsythe in a counter culture magazine. Forsythe said that the drivers of these SUV's are confused about what nation they are representing, when they are driving their SUV's. We should offer them, he told me, a little symbolic clarity, as a gesture of our humanity.
      Forsythe said that you should always call a thing what it is. Although Forsythe said that you should always call a thing what it is, he also has stated that the nature of things can never be stated.
      Forsythe is an Essencest. Which is a religion. Or a philosophy. Or something. In any case, it's something you can believe in. And it's something that he believes in. Even though "its precepts," he is telling me, "are not accessible to the language of the culture in the mind. It cannot," he is telling me, "be articulated.
      "It cannot be understood."
      Forsythe is scaring me.
      "It can only be accepted."
      He is staring at me. He is staring into me.
      There is a thin film of silver moonlight on his eyes, and I am a stutter.
      I am a stutter in the discourse of infinity.




home archives submit black market comrads hot sites search ec chair peotick kultur anti-amthropomorphism
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diaries and memoirs translation and her retinue
the book of revelations and epiphanies working class sweat
the making and unmaking of person the corpse reads classics letters

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