by Robin Wyatt Dunn
Illustration by Thomas Cuschieri
This is a death sentence.
I am writing it myself.
The narrative of a slave, written by himself!
Written by himself, himself, himself, himself –
I will never get outside the house. I have made peace with it.
To you who I love: run.
It started ordinarily enough, with a phone call. I have an old-fashioned phone, plastic, with a dial, which is attached to the wall in my kitchen with a cord.
Though most of you know this, it is still interesting to note that this is why we “dial” numbers: originally, you put your finger in a plastic or metal circle, and turned the dial for each number, the line clicking out the number on the wire, to connect you.
I picked up the phone and then it was a different house, my house.
But if we would understand the House, if we would understand Publishing, first we must understand Writing.
I am a caveman and I carve my name: I was here, watch your water, Eat at Fred’s.
This cave is for my people, please remember us, is what I paint onto the rock, my ancestor at Lascaux (yours too).
The universe is so large and we are so small. What does it mean? Hence we write and paint and all the things we do to work our way into a relationship with these questions.
But writing, unlike a conversation in the cave, comes back and back again, it changes slower. It tends to stick around.
So Writing could be said to be this configuration of two facts: We are small. And time keeps going.
But the House does not agree.
Today I received a bonus, not unlike the one that was given to me with the phone call: eternal life and eternal suffering, and that bonus, just a little extra, is the asymptotic logic of my torture now, one bonus is all bonuses, everything is everything and it is all belonging to the House, which always wins and which you cannot fight, and in the logic of the old saying, I suppose, I joined them, though rather more intimately and bodily than I had imagined.
This is a ghost story, if you like. I am, after all, a ghost. I never existed. Ever, ever ever.
Please know that I believe–still and despite everything–in freedom. I am writing this myself, and they permit this, even now. Even now I am permitted to write, and to dream that you might read this, and more than that, understand it.
But for now it is enough to write. That was part of the problem, you see, this joy . . .
Joy, the uniter of life, is so difficult for governments, because it never knows the proper passwords.
Randomness eats alone, in the ultimate reckoning, and a joining in joy is just too much of a headache, but still – this gives me joy.
I was born in Wyoming. A state I have never returned to. My parents were hippies, and the mountains made them fall in love.
Mountains are another thing the House is uncomfortable with. It prefers smooth places; plateaus.
Many connect publishing with Le Morte D’Arthur, and indeed, “publishing” and the root word in that word, “public,” did not exist at all in the same way, prior to old Gutenberg.
In Arthurian legends, the brave knight often encounters, beneath a bridge, a churl. Later it became a troll, but at first, it was a churl. What a churl is, is a peasant, a serf.
The churl is the bad slave, you see. The bad nigger who run off. And the knight is the overseer, come to kill the bad nigger, with his lady’s scarf tied right onto his white lance.
Of course, this is no surprise. Books, while cheaper with Guternberg’s invention, remained expensive, and so the stories in them were often for the ruling class, and the ruling class hates its slaves, because the slaves might one day rise up and kill the rulers.
But to understand the House we must understand “public” too, which is the harder part. Public is neither the fact that apes, human included, are hierarchical, more or less genetically, nor the fact that language is often controlled by those with the time to work away at its edges, words and sentences and ritualistic utterances, the priests, who often rule, and who do so still, in fact, today.
Yes, the House is tricky. It knows it and it loves it and it doesn’t even really need to understand it for its magic to do its work, because we apes love Massah, we love Massah so good.
We must; it is what we are. Apes who love Massah. We love our King and our Queen, and we will love them forever and ever and ever, even if we cut their heads off, and elect new ones, we love them forever ever.
And Massah is a good at talking. And later, Massah had a say in what talkings made their way down onto paper.
The long divide of history is not between the have and the have-nots, nor between the nomads and the farmers who came after, but between public and private.
And this question, the one I am now trying to answer to save my own life, is related to all of Being, here in this universe, and all those good old questions that our ancestors asked and that we still do, like “is the universe many, or one?” and “where do you end, and I begin?”
Good kings, and even many bad ones, know that they are the Massah who is loved by his niggers, because they are one people, with one tongue, with strong traditions and a beautiful cave, with many drawings, and that there must be give and take. A king, even though he be a king, if he takes only and never gives, he is destroyed.
But the House is different. The House has figured out something —
(but enough of the prologue. my time is running out . . .
When I answered the phone a man appeared. I live in the city of Random House, New York. Or I did. Outside I could hear teenagers arguing, with young joy in their voices. The man who appeared in my kitchen had a different voice. A hollow one.
“I see you’re living by yourself,” he said. “Put down the phone.”
“This is our city now, Robert. Will you come with me?”
I did, following him out, onto the front steps of my building.
“We have found a new death here, did you know?”
And then I hit him, the grey thing he was, I punched him in the face and he took it, turning his face to the side, and then reaching to his lip, to look at the blood on his hand.
“Don’t do that,” he said.
I sit inside this ocean of love, oh great love of the king,
O great love of the house of the king,
In its thousand thousand thousand thousand thousand glories,
I stand on my street next to the man, I walk and follow him, he is a man like me,
but not like me, he made different choices.
So many different choices to be a man! So many different avenues for our braveries and cowardices!
This man made peace with his braveries and cowardices, but have I with mine?
“I’ve been wanting to talk to you,” he said. “We’re concerned that you’re not putting yourself in the best light.”
“What light am I putting myself in?”
“Not the best one.”
“Tell me more.”
“Why don’t you tell me, Robert, how you could improve?”
The king’s love fills my heart. It fills me to the brim and my heart runneth over with his terrible love, his terrifying love, like that of Lear, the mad father who loved each of his children so much, so much that it drove him mad, and in his madness he loved them ever more, the father mother uncle brother smothering the loved one in love, tightening the grip, peering into the brain pan.
“I could blow my brains out.”
“That’s not what we mean, Robert. We want you alive.”
O House that is Random!
In Randomness your life is the fulment fuliginous sacred sacred, generated, generated rich full strong, generated, generated in the bowls and the peat, in the life we gave you that you gave us, that we share, Random,
Randomly again and random, forever, forever in the bright bogs of the peat men and bones uncountable divine, we wish for your rich world that you have then given to us,
Random and Random again, a house forever changing, forever unknowable, Absent Father, Cronus so well remembered, gazing at us from past Jupiter,
The last planet of the ancient world,
The seventh day.
Random House, in thy orisons be all our sins remembered:
The House is waking up.
Oh, the House is waking up. It shakes its foundations to unrest the moss, it blinks its window eyelashes in the daylight and smooths its brow to confront the centuries.
“What did you think you were doing, Robert?”
“Writing, sir, I was writing.”
“Why were you writing what you were writing, Robert?”
“It’s what I wanted to write, sir.”
“But why did you want to write that!”
His eyes are so calm and so careful, like his pacing, like his coat and his hair, his glasses, his walk, his movements, his and his on the long road down and up and through the centuries of monarchy, in their quadrillion shades, the royal purple and the holy white and gold, arrayed for my common eyes to see and hope for to know, to know the love and the light is here, it is so close, divinity is only a good jacket and a calm brow, and wise words, carefully delivered to a proud ear, a faithful ear, my own, your own, our ears are wide for you, O Brave and Boisterous House, so fill us and let us take our due with our dipper from your ewer, let us drink from the divine oasis of your grace, your grace alive, your grace alive in every step down Arthur Ave, the resting place of doves.
Or rats with wings, if you prefer.
I could hold my gun in the mouth of the honest secretary, the loyal administrative assistant, paying her expensive rent, hoping her high hopes and combing her pretty hair, I could hold my gun in her mouth like a collaborating cunt in Paris, 1945, and say,
‘Why did you do it, you fucking bitch?”
What would it change. Another dead woman, another dead century, another century of their deaths, all our deaths (still more humans alive than have ever, ever died, as of 2013!), what will it change.
Still, I want to do it, and I know why they killed the collaborators. Because they’d made peace with their own conscience, and their own cowardices, and they acted.
The genius of society well-founded, a House well born, is that the idea lives on. The culture survives, dead secretary or no.
“This sentence is death, and death is the sentence.”
And what if we all do it, Random House?
What if we all do it, Hemingway, Joyce, Faulkner, Thompson, Dickenson, Whitman, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Beowulf, what if we all blow our brains out?
Suicide spreads, like the Khmer Rouge, and what if we all just do it?
You already want stupider books, for stupider people, and like buying stupid books written by stupid people. Yes, just pour off the cream.
Kill us all off — you’ll make more, right?
Here in this horrendously random experiment. Just ship a gun out with your contracts. Just ship the .45 with the paper in the mail. Gotta love it, you poor boys on your high rises with your smoking jackets and your long horizons and long tails and aggregated engines of despair, just waiting to off yourself too, aren’t you?
Ship out the guns with the contracts. Ship them out and let the red come out, let the red come out over the countryside for all our sons and daughters, for all your sons and daughters, New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Hamburg, Istanbul, Athens, Rome, Jerusalem, Babylon, Sumer, Akkad.
Go back and ship all the guns to all our capitals of the writers of the world, ship them all out, every last contract and gun you can find, every last one, every last one, every last one, messengers of old, you of the blue blood and the strong teeth, you apes of the millennia uncounted and undreamt, unremembered, rulers, rulers of the new earth —
Won’t you do it at last? Won’t you do it at last.
And perhaps we should return anyway to the preliterate civilizations. Perhaps it is time to undo Gutenberg and undo the Irish monks. Perhaps it is time that we went back there, to the time before, to some beautiful medieval time with handsome and illiterate knights good with their broadsword who waited, waited every day for the chanson to arrive . . .
Where is your chanson, Random House? What will you sing under the eaves in the night? What music will you play, when you have bid us all goodbye?
Or instead, the reverse:
And a new Bastille will see me wear your head around my neck, shrunken with pride.
Perhaps even the sabot again, a good strong wooden one like always, into your few remaining paper presses.
When is killing justified? What reasons do you need to make it right? Is it always only a feeling?
It’s said that apes know when to beat the abuser of privileges, one too many back scratches with nothing in return, but there are so many of us apes now. How can we keep track?
In the aggregate. In the aggregator. On the long royal train, riding, riding over the cliff . . .
What are the avenues of despair? How many are its streets and alleys, cul-de-sacs inviting and deep and wide, waiting for you, King, waiting for your House to declare them wise.
For when despair is wise, the King is in a kind of safety, watching the gloom settle, hoping that his gods may be able to keep him safe.
Which are your gods, Random House?
I cry. I cry to thee. O King! I cry your name! Your name is Random and your House and all its Dies Drear thousand spackled sainted wastes are nothing! Nothing and nothing!
Let me hear you tell this tale better:
He thrusts his fists against the stomach of the man and knows, he knows. Robert punches the man in the stomach, there in the street, and each blow to the man is a wedge in the clay, each bruise on his face is a wedge in the clay, the body of the prince the clay, and Robert’s fist the wedge, into the clay, cuneiform ballet, the street sees each grace as a word, each moment explicated carefully in the enlargening forum of debate.
Under the logic of execution is a greater logic not only of reform and atonement, vengeance and superimposition of both quantum states and collective guilt, but inertia.
For a moving body does tend to keep at it, and what has been started cannot be stopped.
I cry havoc.
Robin Wyatt Dunn lives in southern California and is the author of three novels. He believes in an Aristotelian universe; that is, world without end. You can find him at www.robindunn.com.
Thomas Cuschieri is a mathematician who draws comics. He’s sorry about that thing with the cake and the trampoline and promises it’ll never happen again.