For What It's Worth – a literary site

The literary site of Jason Bentsman, featuring quality writings and media by him and notable Contributors

 

This is the definitive author’s cut, published with permission of the author, of the titular story that appeared in Harper’s Magazine and was edited down due to length considerations therein. This version reflects the author’s ultimate vision. To compare it to the original, please see the Harper’s version.

 

 

 

 

That Doubling Is Always Observed (Author’s Cut) 

 


On the Kupuestra

 

It is not supple. It communicates nothing. The kupuestra is mute; brittle; many-cornered, the body as polygon; the choreographic equivalent of Ak-Mak crackers but without the sesame seeds. It is performed without music. It is performed without face or torso. It does not arouse the passions in the manner of, say, the tango. It does not stir the heart, the pathetic object of that old wadded-up valentine the waltz. The kupuestra is not old. It is not wadded-up. Like weeping, it is colorless. Like Tuesday, it has no scent. Most performances (not all) go unnoticed. The great artists of the medium (save one: see On Lop, below) are unknown; all owe their anonymity to their unwholesome pallors and pretzel bones; all die before the age of forty. (This last is an inference. What we know with certainty is that no artist of the medium greater than the age of forty has been observed.) Because of the way the heels are brought together, then snapped violently into the inner thighs and locked there (enremmeta, “as if kissing the private parts”) in the dance’s most recognizable kinetic, the critic Eugene Genova has compared the kupuestra to the communal dining of jackals (which begins at the entrails and moves skinward) and labeled it savage and reprobate.

 

Genova is misguided. The kupuestra is not savage and its merits are obvious. It is a dance for our time.

 


O
n Early Training

 

Children are chosen for the academy at age three. The principal criteria for acceptance are an unfathomable facial expression; skin of a dreadful hue; want of ambition; and a willingness to be placed in enremmeta and to remain so without complaint. During the audition the applicant is suspended from cables to test for infirmity of purpose— “like a dead marionette,” as Genova put it famously.

 

Children remain at the academy until they have nothing more to forget. They train intensively, usually at night, gradually advancing through twelve degrees of ignorance. Communication with parents is forbidden. Snacks and bicycles are forbidden. On completion of their studies, students are awarded monogrammed napkins and sent packing. Most are never heard from again. What they do with their training, or their napkins, is unknown. (Exception: See On Lop’s Napkin, below.)

 

 

On Performance

 

Performance is the wrong word. The kupuestra is come into. It is assumed. Imagine wool. Imagine Emily Dickinson asleep. Such images convey the lumbering poetry of the dance— its arrested couplets, its elevation of inertness to a majestic level. Once enremmeta is achieved, nothing remains. Genova has, predictably, attempted comment, without success. Between stanzas short bursts are permitted, as the dancer moves blindly along the collapsing boundaries, clueless as to the outcome. And then it is over— or not, as the case may be, depending on many things.

 

Solos are not unheard of, but true kupuestra jigsaws and so requires clusters. The ideal setting for an assumption is a pit or a quarry, or any brown place without trees. Observers go there single file. They surround it. What they see they shrug off at once.

 


O
n Vekner

 

Edward Vekner was the father of the kupuestra, albeit an unwitting one, a man whose understanding of the dance did not exceed a lizard’s understanding of algebra. He once admitted that until he was twenty he believed that motion on the dance floor was a tidal phenomenon brought on by the gravitational pull of the moon. Vekner’s passion was hay rides. As a child he dreamed he would one day ride a hay bale into battle. This never happened. Instead, he became a designer of cemeteries. (Genova provides a plausible explanation for the farcical trajectory from military hay rider to graveyard architect: the flip side of a live soldier atop a heap of alfalfa is a dead one beneath a field of poppies.) The cemetery designer does the best he can with a bad situation, and Vekner assuredly did that. However shallow his understanding of the dance, his landscapes were wide, his holes dark and deep.

 

 

On Vekner’s Epiphany

 

Vekner didn’t know a two-step from a turnip, but he had a pair of eyes and he knew what to do with them. Business took him to Reefmeer. There he happened to meet Hepple, the well-known foundation excavator. During their conversation, which began vaguely and continued ambiguously, Hepple mentioned the recently discovered mass grave on the Aupuene and offered to show it to his new friend.

 

The following morning found the two men traipsing toward the site single-file, along with hundreds of townsfolk. As they reached the spot, a depression that was neither large nor small, nor was it medium, they shambled along the lip, circling, until all had found suitable vantage points. There they paused and gawked.

 

What is there to say? It rose up. It was there. It was stately, in a way, but with zing. It was a kind of too much (but not totally). Interlocking could be inferred. At the summit of the pile was Enremmeta, a house painter. Hepple remarked on the doubling back of the legs, heel-to-thigh, and mentioned that the pose had been seen at the summit of other such piles.

 

Vekner felt a crushing pain in his chest. Struggling for air, he stumbled back to his room, aware that his life was in danger. After the Aupuene he traveled to Juulena, then Dalveddian, then Meriol. At the time, few such piles were known. Driven underground like a common thimblerigger, the poor man was forced to abandon his family, his business, his golden retriever, and come into his life’s work fortified only by emergency rations of bewilderment and chagrin.

 

Had he lived today, in our time of a kind of too much, when every cardiopulmonary system is engaged and every town has its pile, he might have been spared much grief and been led to his celebrated discovery in short order. As it happened, seven years were to erode beneath his feet before he had seen what he had seen and resurfaced to announce his astonishing findings: that whatever the why, that however the unraveling, that whenever the inquiry, that wherever the gawking, that whomever the heap—that doubling back of the legs, heel-to-thigh, is always observed. And this: that although he knew nothing of the dance, he knew it was like a dance.

 

 

On What Happened to Vekner Next

 

He did not end up in a pile himself. The man enjoyed a brief celebrity. After the fuss he returned to his family, his business, and his golden retriever, welcomed by all except the latter, which sniffed at him as she might have addressed a new hassock in the family room. There were commissions, consultations, a tiny award for good grooming. He was invited to snip the ribbon at the ground-breaking for the academy. He developed pains in his legs, the lingering hoofprint of an old hay-ride injury. Chiropractic produced a quick cure. Life went on and then it didn’t. At an age too soon Vekner went blind, then mad. On the fifth day of the fourth month of his thirty-seventh year, he choked to death attempting to swallow his tongue. He ended up in one of his own cemeteries, beneath a stone reading Aboveground at last.

 

 

On Lop

Lop was a many-angled Cremeran. The kupuestra was made for her, or her for it, or something. Thousands have danced; only Lop sank in. She was unfathomable, she was cracker-like, she was the color of bacon grease, yet she was not shrugged off. Old-timers recall not wool but Lop at the top— spindly needle-nailed fingers scratching at the sky, horned hips, notched brow, sawtooth chest zagging against the breathless frozen-night drift of the moon. The remembered usually defy convention. Lop defied astrophysics. There was always a moon, or Antares, or a frolicking galaxy when she danced, even on the stage at the local civic center. Vellone, who loved her, wrote of Lop in enremmeta—

 

                        crooked as a cow path but floating in a spiral

                        nebula of pink argon

                        but

 

Others who danced embodied earth. Lop embodied space. Therein lay her secret. Even in an airless cluster she found elbow room. Even in enremmeta she became void. The kupuestra communicates nothing, and Lop did not say that void is good or that it is chilly or even that it contains fish. Void with good or with trout is not void. Lop said that void is void. If you insist on meaning you are as misguided as Genova (who hated Lop and really hated Vellone, whose saccharine rhapsodies he compared to frilly underpants); but here, try this: Lop said that void is void, by which she meant that sooner or later you will end up in a hole in the ground, but relax, it won’t be as bad as you imagine, because a hole can contain nothing— not you, not fish—so that wherever you are must be somewhere. If you find this exegesis comforting, fine, but you are missing the point; if you find it mindless, well done, you are floating in a spiral nebula of pink argon but.

 

 

On Lop’s Birth

 

It would be stirring to relate that Lop arrived on Earth in an empty envelope from the planet Zook, but it would also be untrue. She arrived on Earth in the normal fashion— screaming, flailing, seething, burning for revenge; the unfathomable, cracker-like, grease-colored daughter of two frightened parents who had expected a bundle of joy but received instead what appeared to be an enraged porcupine. The child would not be calmed. From behind a hastily constructed barricade, a recent medical school graduate assured the small, bewildered parents that, like all thorny babies, little Lop would grow up to run a successful business; moreover, within five minutes she would succumb happily to warm milk and a bath, at which time the prickers would retract and contented cooing commence.

 

All of which was, of course, wishful thinking— more wishful than thinking, as it turned out. The recent medical school graduate was wrong. Lop never cooed. The prickers never retracted.

 

The child’s most notable feature, even including her color, her consistency, and her rage, was a halo. Cerulean in hue, murky as the Lotus of the True Law, it surrounded her little spiked head not as Giotto or Cimabue might have installed it— like a ring of Saturn— but instead cubically, like a packing box for a Rand-McNally globe. Within, she wailed.

 

All children are born with the crushing realization that they have just been transferred from a vile, suffocating prison to one even more vile and more suffocating. Yet through the direct application of mushy kisses and teddy bears, parents are able to drive this intelligence underground, behind the medulla oblongata, beneath the logos and the anima, into the remote, cavernous tunnels of Plot Central. There it is snipped into enough story lines to supply a lifetime of nightmares and neuroses. Deprived of the truth, denied the lowdown on their origins, the children grow up to be useful voting citizens.

 

Little Lop was different. Her halo acted as a hermetic shield. Kisses and teddy bears, no matter how thickly applied, could not get in; the crushing realization could not be suppressed. On the contrary, it orbited her head like a communications satellite, coming face-to-face with her face once every ninety-six minutes.

 

The rest of the time she breathed free. Other babies, smothered by love, had no rest of the time. They grew short of breath. Lop grew long of breath. She developed space. She developed comets and asteroids. She became a star in her own disturbing universe. Her halo gave her an edge over other babies, wisdom none of them had: Only disconnect, it counseled. Fight only for air. Her head swam in a revelation of blue. At the age of two days she decided on her life’s work.

 

 

 On Lop’s Napkin

 

She made of it a small boat. This upon departing the academy at an advanced age, still struggling to achieve even elementary ignorance. It was decided that although she hadn’t forgotten everything (she had, in fact, forgotten nothing), she had forgotten as much as she was capable of forgetting, and therefore, technically, had fulfilled the requirements for release. At a festive snack with the institution’s spiritual director— a descendent of Vekner’s— Lop was presented with her own napkin, which was buff-colored and heptagonal. She immediately folded it into a replica of a slave galley. Beneath the monogrammed “L” she drew a poor sketch of herself in enremmeta. Then, in tiny letters, she wrote:

 

                        If you find me

                        Look right through me

                        I am nothing

                        If you are folded, decrease

                        If you are cleaved, depart

                        Follow nothing

                        Seek the nothing in all things

                        (Signed) a dancer, but

 

Then she excused herself, went into the bathroom, tossed the little boat into the toilet, and flushed. The vessel descended with a choking sound, as though there were passengers on board. It passed quickly through the town’s sewer system and out to sea. For seven years the craft plied the world’s oceans, seven years of valor and fury. At last it made land— at a beach near Fendago— where Vellone, an unpublished poet, retrieved it.

 

Reading the message the old man was greatly cheered. He had sought nothing his entire life! The napkin still carried Lop’s many-cornered scent and her depth. Pickled by the pungent vapors, bewitched by the abyss, the man who sought nothing determined now to continue his quest by setting out to find the boat builder. Her scent led him quickly to the city of Kantrice, her depth to a bakery, where he located the object of his search in enremmeta, floating in a spiral nebula of pink argon but.

 

In accordance with Lop’s wishes, he saw right through her. He saw a priest with a yo-yo. He saw a mountain wearing a hat. He saw a drawer full of vanilla beans. He saw, above everything, a rainbow advertising hiking boots. These were not drug dreams or chimeras: Lop’s universe was hung thick with them! They were Arcturus and the Pleiades. They were the quarks and the leptons in void. They were the benevolence of the woman, the reassurance that it is never as bad as you imagine.

 

Vellone watched for as long as shapelessness allowed. Then he began to write.

 

 

On Lop’s Final Years

 

Vellone’s little collection, That Doubling Is Always Observed, sold eleven copies. Lop claimed that the author had mistaken the artist for her art; Vellone did not respond. In the city of Kantrice, needless to say, he had become the why. He was discovered there, years later, in enremmeta.

 

Lop’s edges, meanwhile, transmogrified; she remembered things she had never known; her legs straightened; she walked by the sea, enchanted.

 

One day she decided to take off her halo. She placed it on the beach beside something narrow yet smooth. The excellence of the halo was carried off by the next storm, but no matter: a yellow skiff came in sight, searching for things to rescue. Lop waded out to greet the craft. She received a hearty welcome from the captain and the crew. And soon they departed on the April tide. Like Vekner, she was thirty-seven. Like Vellone, she watched for as long as shapelessness allowed. She is somewhere, with the others.

 

 


T
he End

 

 

 

 


 

About the author, Robert Leonard Reid 

 

 

 

 

 

© Robert Leonard Reid

 

 

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Just for fun. . . A short video I made with my phone and a prism glass I found at a party. Very simple: two takes, no editing (save for the fades in the beginning and end, adding the song, and balancing sound levels). . . Music by the Velvet Underground & Nico

 

 

 


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society_of_the_spectacle_washed_out_smaller_rounded

 

 

Social media has some benefits, but it has also set society back considerably. The essence of literature is the eternal. The essence of social media is the ephemeral. The two are somewhat at odds. The former prompts one to meditate deeply and repeatedly on whatsoever is indestructible among inherent impermanence and death. The latter to encounter the next stimulus, the next frisson and fix.

 

However deep a social media post, most are conditioned by the expectations of the medium to regard it as transient and move on. The deep is leveled with the pedestrian, discarded into that mediatic realm of forgetfulness where the other quintillion posts of the past reside.

 

Surely literature is varied and can create its own needless desires and problems: but at heart its intentions are eternal. Social media’s intentions, much like a drunkard’s playful gesture at a party, are of the moment.

 

Using social media as one’s primary literacy medium can breed addiction to fleeting, lowly desires; a centring on the self; voyeurism; unfounded envy and jealousy; distractibility, even ADD; reduced awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, sensations, and other internal processes; and ultimately total belief in one’s small sense of self, in distinction to the other selves populating the pages, and whatever verbal and emotional messages it sends —  most actually regurgitations of corporate, governmental, mediatic, and other organizational manipulations; entrenched cultural prejudices; and the utterances of myopic, biased individuals deeply under the zeitgeist’s sway —  which one rarely ever observes attentively.

 

Social media, thus, cannot be a vehicle for new literature, but at best a sounding board for pieces of works in progress and a cistern for re-exposing and rehashing the fine literature of old. The true place of literature is in whatsoever format can create a context for regarding it as a lasting repository of inspiration and wisdom that one can return and refer to repeatedly.

 

And so too this post will go the way of other social media offerings: regarded for a moment, likely with slack attention, and forgotten as deeply as the curling vestiges of this morning’s dreams.

 

— Maximus Minimus



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Notes on the Guitar for fwiw

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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Trump_Diplomacy

 

 

 

America, look forward to 4 years of this:

 

– French? I’m great at French. I’m terrific. I speak the best French 
– Is that so? Would you speak some French for us
– Let me tell you, when I speak French, it will be fantastic. It will be huge. Huuuge! Like nothing you’ve ever heard. No one speaks French like I speak French
– [Pause] Okay… so… let’s hear it? 
– Hear it? 
– Yes. Let us hear you speak French
– I speak the best French. Like no one else
– I understand. So let us hear it… [Pause]… Mr Trump? 
– [Pauses. Fiddles with something underneath the podium. Chintzy electronic voice:] “Je parle le meilleur français… Aucun musulmans autorisés aux États-Unis…” 
– [Pause] Umm… that— I believe you are using a Google translate App. And— that wasn’t— really even grammatically correct
– Uh, no. I don’t believe that’s the case
– I do, think, sir— I do think that is the case
– Well, look, I beg to differ

 

. . .

 

– When I meet Chirac, he’ll be blown away by my French 
– Umm, sir— well, Chirac is no longer the President of France
– President, no president. He’ll be blown away. Let me tell you
– You plan to meet Chirac then? 
– Chirac. Chamberlain. I’ll meet them all. Meet them all
– Chamberlain is long dead, sir… And he was a British Prime Minister 
– Same difference. Same difference

 

. . .

 

– Listen, French is for losers. English is for winners
– But that doesn’t resolve whether you can speak the…
– Okay, little french fry
– “Little french fry”? Was that an insult?
– Listen, french fry, I’m a counter-puncher
– But I just asked if you could speak French—
– See folks, this is what’s killing America. People that can’t speak English
– No, I can speak English. The question is whether you—
– Alright little french fry
– Why do you keep— 
– Listen folks, we’re going to make America so great— so great— that we speak the best French. The creme de la creme French, okay? The French will be begging us— begging us— to teach them French. That’s how good our French will be.*

 

 

* part 3 by M. Shadwell



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A brilliant sunny day – I walk into the old neighborhood I lived in from age 5 or so to about 13 or so – It seems immaculately clean, and empty, no one around – The old house is perfectly painted, the lawn lush green and perfectly mown –  I have a key, and go inside – The shades are drawn, some interstices of bright light bethronged with tiny motes – My old dog Prince is there [black flat-coated retriever] – He seems to be 7 or 8 years old – I have a conversation with him; he can speak – I always thought he was the brightest dog I’d ever come across, almost human (perhaps some bright human reincarnated as a dog due to some infraction) – Lie down on the carpet alongside him and pet him while we chat a little and catch up –  It’s as if I’ve gone back in time to when he is 7 or 8 – He automatically understands that I’ve come from the future; his sense of time is more intuitive and accurate than humans’, unclouded by human conceptions – ‘Yes, I’ve learned to speak your language basically,’ he says, ‘and I’ve learned a little of what you call poetry’ – ‘Well, why that’s astounding,’ I say. ‘Most dogs have very little understanding at all, let alone can learn to speak English!’ – I stand up, we continue talking – He makes some comments about the human race from a dog’s point of view – ‘Your species thinks itself very clever, but has gradually gone insane. You all produce countless items you don’t need, destroy your home (the planet)— countless species’ home— and each other in so doing, just to amass this needless clutter and meaningless pieces of paper [money], rather than simply live cooperatively, in tune with nature’ – He makes various other observations [which I can’t recall] – My parents are supposed to arrive soon, and I want to leave before they see me, for I’m from the future



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J.

 

Some impulse compelled me to begin reading Big Sur by Jack Kerouac— probably because I instinctively felt it would be in line with what I’m writing at the moment. I don’t have the book here, so read the first few chapters online. Tonight I watched the movie adaptation that was made several years ago. It didn’t get good reviews, and I understand why, but I definitely got something out of it; I’d say that of the handful of movies made about his writing and the Beats, it probably captures the feeling and truth of their relationships, that time, and his writing the best. Except, it’s 15 years after On The Road, and chronicles his alcoholic haze and delirium tremens and utter dissipation. The plot is inadvertently clever— he’s in what is probably one of the most beautiful places in the Universe, and all he can see is decay, death, awfulness, and suffering, and is gradually killing himself through drink and pessimism and becoming borderline psychotic… When one is 26 years old and hitchhiking around the country, sleeping rough, and throwing one’s last handful of money into the ocean, it’s vibrant and romantic; when one is 40, haggard and grizzled, not so much… The book/film also inadvertently chronicle the deep cultural changes that took place in the US after 15 years. He tries to hitchhike back to San Francisco from Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s cabin in Big Sur, but by then hitchhiking is no longer quite in vogue, the media has scared people too much, and on top of it he looks like a world-weary, out-of-shape, wizened wastrel, sticking his thumb out, and nobody will stop the entire day to pick him up, so he ends up walking back almost the entire way. Meanwhile, many of his friends have gone on to take ‘sensible’ positions in society… He does seem to have made some money from his writings— apparently, enough to live on simply—  but spends most of it on alcohol, and at times loaning or giving it to Neal Cassady (when he’s visiting the San Francisco area)… And yet, the kind of relationships he has with his male and female friends, as portrayed in this book and movie, are still more informal, easy, earnest, forthright, magnanimous, freewheeling, and generous than one can hardly ever find in contemporary America nowadays (which is eminently sad). And people are more easy, friendship-wise, affection-wise, sex-wise. (Although of course these are the countercultural elements. Mad Men, for instance, often shows a different side of the coin.) And the environment is much more pristine, less polluted (also sad)… It struck me that a dissolute character such as he had become could no longer quite gain respect even in the America of there-and-then (1962). He had become something like a tragic French dissipated, disconsolate, artistic type, outwardly cynical, but with a core of gold— something like Celine, or one of those grizzled male chanson singers, and at that point probably only would have truly been lauded for these qualities (mostly wrongly, of course, but there is something partly noble about this deep-sightedness into the suffering of life and stoic suffering and self-destruction) only in a country like France, or Russia… A number of times t/o the film (and I would imagine in the book, as most of the narration and dialogue is faithfully taken from it), he says that everything he wrote about Zen, or the Absolute, just feels like empty words. It was just braggadocio, romantic philosophizing and posturing, wordplay, and he doesn’t understand or feel any of it. He’s not sure he ever did. The woman whom Neal Cassady sets him up with quotes something about the Absolute, and he says he doesn’t understand what she’s talking about. She says, Why, you yourself wrote that. He says he really didn’t know what it meant then— maybe he was trying to convince himself of something— and doesn’t understand it now… I recall William Butler Yeats writing a similar thing later in life: Everything Mystical he wrote was a kind of self-deluding, trying to account for the tragedy of impermanence, but on final account likely a nice story he had told himself so he wouldn’t be afraid… It struck me that Kerouac, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Kafka have a lot in common psychologically. All saw (or felt) deeply into the darkness and suffering of existence, none of them could handle it. All felt estranged from their general milieu and the superficialities therein (as most artists do, or at least have historically, to some extent). All longed to return to the vibrancy of youth— the insouciance, the vibrancy of experience (even if partial or illusory)— and the ‘pristineness’ and protectiveness of childhood— wrapped in the snug wooly ignorance and warmth of childhood, protected from the elements and harsh realties of life, awash in imagination. All subconsciously submitted to their fears and sufferings and killed themselves— Fitzgerald and Kerouac through drink and profligacy, Kafka by developing in all likelihood what was a psychosomatic illness, or creating the external conditions for the illness. Kafka was at once the weakest and strongest of them, and hence overall (though not in some particulars) the deepest and most resplendent. He was so weak that he couldn’t even dissipate himself, but had to subconsciously will himself to develop an illness. His ego-sense so traumatized that he felt himself a tiny vermin unfit to have been born. He also had the most difficult childhood of the three by far— and yet, one can tell he longed to return to the general childhood state. As we all do, to some extent… I doubt whether most teenagers and 20-somethings who read Kerouac’s earlier books know much about his later, Tolstoyan (who chronicled and saw into all facets and stages of worldly life) descents and struggles. He was one who felt more than thought. Perhaps through that ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ he was truly coming to a Siddharthan awareness of existence, and if he had not decimated himself through drink into borderline insanity, had he come through the other side (as Dostoevsky did after the imprisonment and firing squad), he would have developed a more trenchant and Tolstoyan view of existence. But alas. He did go to Paris, wrote a terrible, almost unreadable hodgepodge of gibberish about it, a few more such books— and ‘the rest,’ well… We can only hope that our conditions are a little more favorable. God bless you, and God rest you in peace, Jack Kerouac. 

 

– Jan 2016



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