(design/edited Leo Edelstein and Yanni Florence, associate editor Judith Elliston)
from the Psychomilitary issue
BY CHRIS KRAUS
In America, survival was the only pleasure that Jerome allowed himself. To survive entailed elaborate planning. He had to look ahead, anticipate what necessities could eventually be withdrawn, and then, through his resourcefulness and discipline, eliminate them. He practiced fasting. It was something he could do. Jerome disliked his own passivity. Pain, he found, could be his friend, so long as it was self-administered in incremental doses. During his many fasts, Jerome distantly observed the hunger pangs that turned his solar plexus into a vortex during days 1 and 2. These pains, he knew, would be rewarded on days 3 and 4 with a floaty feeling of euphoria, which eventually leveled off. Days 5 through 10 were easily the best: the time when the body's early warning system of endorphins tuned way down, before the weakening effects of hunger really hit.
During these days, Jerome walked around the city like the desert nomads he'd observed, in a state of total peace. While others planned career moves and acquisitions, Jerome experimented with extending this plateau of blissful independence deeper into the second week. These were the good times, when Jerome knew he needed nothing. He liked to visualize his stomach as it contracted from a bloated oozing sac into a taut athletic vessel. The image of it gave him something close to pleasure. People were dogs, it was well documented, driven only by their basest needs. If he could eliminate his need for food there would be one less way others could hurt him. He was perplexed when others talked about their feelings because mostly he did not feel anything.
Through years of intermittent practice, Jerome found that he could last about 3 weeks without eating. He waited, half expectantly, for the time when his survival skills would be tested. He waited for another Jewish Holocaust the way others waited for the Rapture. But nothing happened. Books in America were never burned; they were simply pulped, discarded and remaindered. There was no round-up at the university. The New York subway cars were never redirected to Bergen-Belsen. He was haunted by a sense of expectation that once verbalized would seem ridiculous. And so he never spoke. Fear was his most treasured secret.
PURE ET DUR
Pure et Dur (hard and pure) was one of the slogans of the Young Zionist Pioneers that Jerome belonged to in his youth. Being human had been totally discredited by the war. The Zionist Pioneers (like the young Italian Fascists of the 20s) yearned towards a reconstructed perfectibility of the human species. Hard and pure: to have a body made of brushed aluminum; to transcend the human organism's banal needs; to live a life that was shaped entirely by principle. Jamais plus. If you could create a body that was hard enough, a spirit that was pure enough, you would never again allow yourself to be a victim.
Sylvie, on the other hand, aspired to a life that would be compromised and murky. Having kids, she thought, would be the best way of achieving this: kids throw you off the track, make it impossible for you to take yourself so seriously.
They communicated best through the medium of Lily, their emaciated long-haired dachshund. Lily, abandoned at age 7 before Sylvie saved her from the City dog pound, had the soul of a survivor. She did not forget. She had strange somatic illnesses and humors that often couldn't be appeased by offerings of chew toys, bones and food. Gratitude alone was not enough for Lily to escape her overwhelming sense of sorrow. After the War, Jerome's mother like to entertain him with tales of atrocities she'd heard about or witnessed. Babies bayoneted, or sometimes thrown against the wall before the eyes of their helpless and conflicted mothers.
More than the simple elimination of a race, it was the destruction of a people. These stories horrified the 10 year old Jerome, and they bound him to his mother. She was the one who'd gotten him through the war. He owed his life to her. Therefore, he could never misbehave, abandon or betray her. Sometimes, Lily got up from her place at the foot of Jerome and Sylvie's bed, or in winter from her furry sheepskin rug beside the fire. She arched her back, elongating her frail torso between her extended skinny legs. 'Stretchy Stretchy,' Jerome and Sylvie cooed to her adoringly.
It could be argued that an anoetic memory of the Jewish Holocaust hovers over the French mid-century discovery of formalism. Georges Perec and Oulipo, Marguerite Duras, Nathalie Sarraute, and Robbe-Grillet - the French New Novel. It was like, reality could no longer be contained within a single narrative and so they devised new methods of bisecting it - sets and subsets - a refracted algebraic distancing effect - the invention of experimental narrative.
Each fragment of reality contains a little bit of poison. You must be careful when ingesting it. Never swallowing it whole, avoiding coming up against the dead-end of contrived and false proscriptions of causality. When there is no longer any why, reality is best presented in petits morceaux - the queasiness of tiny poisoned morsels.