One thousand and one words

Wednesday, September 12, 2018 - 4:05pm

Renee Magritte / Wikimedia Commons

Renee Magritte / Wikimedia Commons Buy this photo
Wikimedia Commons

You are about to begin reading the latest edition of the B-Side on absurd art. Or, depending on the layout, maybe this is the last article you came across. At the time this article was written, it was only a flood of pixels, one trip down the waterfall of edits away from print. The author was aware that according to convention, usually the lead article reigns supreme from the upper left of the first page. Nonsense like what you are currently reading would be lucky to be shuffled between the intermediary pages. The author still leaves the possibility open for you to fatally flip to page three on your first read. It is also possible that the chiefest of nonsense takes precedence in an insert dedicated to nonsense.

Take a moment to take in your surroundings. The classroom chatter is enough to slightly obstruct, forcing you to make a choice: Finish reading this article or prepare yourself for class with the one minute you have left. You opt for the latter (a smart decision, as reading a crinkly newspaper is complicated to do covertly) and your professor suddenly manifests into the cramped, windowless room. How, you ask? Your questions remained unanswered as the lights dim and the projector whirs.

“I have eaten the plums” is all you can make out. You crane your neck around the six feet of human in front of you to read the text that has spilled onto the blackboard. It seems orientation has been thrown out the window. But there is no window, thankfully, because if there was a window, the birds would sing tempting songs of self-defenestration from their unimpeded pedestals. You, the prisoner pawn, sit flanked by that unusually tall bishop and fellow fodder, while the opposing queen plots unflinchingly.

The invisible hands controlling the standoff begin to budge, albeit apathetically. The presentation on the absence of convention and form in literature switches slides slowly in the background. You find it funny that this theoretical warden has the gall to confine you when they have never been confined themselves. Intrinsically, they are free. You are not. Your professor, the eightfold master of the checkerboard, initiates her strike. Ramble of how abandoning form is form itself soundtracks this scheme. Fell swoop. 12:51. You and your monochromatic compatriots lay prostrate on the battlefield of irony.

This article has become crumpled in your hurried attempts to fashion the insert back to its virginal state. You put all your focus into these words. Except the only words that can excite you are “RESTROOMS.” The helpful arrow indicating their position extends seemingly infinitely. The stall door flies open as fast as your belt unbuckles. You think to yourself that The Thinker looks like he’s shitting and everything amusingly swirls together. Lecture keywords buzz through your mind, but where to store them provides a challenge.

The Encyclopedia Of Songs That You Almost Completely Know Lyrically But Don’t Bust Your Pipes Out In The Car Around Friends Quite Yet? The Encyclopedia Of Very Basic Video Tutorials For Everyday Human Processes (Featuring Such Hits as, “How To Boil Water” and “Practicing Eye Contact”)? The Encyclopedia Of Life Lessons That Came As A Result Of Getting In Trouble With Your Parents? The Encyclopedia Of Misremembered “National Treasure” Quotes? The Encyclopedia Of Menu Item Numbers At Takeout Places Within A Three Mile Radius?

You settle on Volume Three of the Encyclopedia Of Literary Terms You Incorporate Into Colloquy And Writing To Make Yourself Appear Smarter Than You Really Are (of which the author has a full set). Metafiction fits in nicely above metonymy.

With a clear mind and clearer body, you head home for your sweet midday nap. You are at peace. Instantaneously, your meditative state of mind is marred when an ugly stack of dishes greets your arrival. You angrily ponder the notion that your roommate actually believes you don’t need soap to clean pans. Boiling like a tea kettle, steam billows out of your ears quite cartoonishly. You need to cool in the calming waters of your most cherished story, “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote.”

The author wonders why you, someone who prefers chess-fueled escapism over English class, would have a leather-bound copy of “The Garden of Forking Paths.” You and the author share a common bond: Questions remain unanswered.

Perhaps you like reading books that aren’t really books and don’t like listening to people talk about books that aren’t really books. You hate structure anyways, evidenced by the fact “Pale Fire” and “Hopscotch” top the pile of books sandwiched in a corner. You prefer function over form; functionally, the corner is a bookshelf.

Chapters and three-act structure are tools of oppression. Liberation, in your eyes, is the shirking of oppression. In absurdity, you find normality.

You realize that Jorge Luis Borges found normality in absurdity as well. So did Vladimir Nabokov. Julio Cortázar. William Carlos Williams. In your attempt to subvert normality, a new norm was established. The walls of your room are closing in. In a flurry of motion, you grab your copy of Italo Calvino’s “If on a winter’s night a traveler” from the middle of your stack, an absurd stack, as infinite as the Library of Babel housed in that aforementioned favorite leather tome of yours. The balance is upset and its weight is enough to crush you, if not for your nimbleness. The world around you is vanishing, like the letters on the last page of that Calvino book you grabbed after you spilled water on it.

It takes the first word of “traveler” to realize that your shackles are drawn in ink. You are bound to this page of the B-Side as you were bound to the classroom. You are the reader. I am the author. While these pages are set in type, the nature of our relationship is not. Perhaps one day these roles will be reversed. For now, you’re still fiddling with this flimsy paper. Classmates chatter closely. The clock strikes noon.