My hands were clean
by Tom Bradley
[ fiction - july 12 ]
Speaking of the Chinese, earlier that very month when they began to pirate the products of his soul on a gargantuan scale, our visiting author had waxed bitterly eloquent in denouncing such thievery from the pulpit of the electronic broadcast media. He was courageous enough to speak out, despite the protestations of certain leftward-leaning naifs in the press who pointed out that the Chinese could never afford his books at the regular price, anyway. They cited Faulkner's words to the effect that the true novelist's sole desire should be to "scratch his name on the door of eternity" without regard to the service charge that could be extracted in return for such scratching. These lefties also claimed that certain writers existed (maybe all dead now) who would be flattered to the point of mania to have members of such a vast and formidable civilization taking an interest in their books, regardless of the financial arrangement, or lack thereof, which had placed the latter in their hands.
- Fission Among the Fanatics
The end of everything is going to be like a jumbo jet crash: what kills you is the sheer bouncing avoirdupois of all the other assholes jam-packed around you. The unprecedented apocalyptic monstrosity of the internet makes it obvious that our universe, and everybody in it, is hurtling into the final few screams of the Great Dissolution, as promised in the Vishnu Purana. The Night of Brahma will follow, when we all have to shut the fuck up, and even stop publishing e-books.
Our barely-average star, just another nondescript zhlub in the crowd, stumbles ever closer to the eliptical band-saw of the galactic plane. Spirits that have managed, during the preceding dozens of millennia, to grapple all the way up from a rock to a plant to a beast to a human (just barely, in many cases), are grabbing for some self-consciousness, by means of which they might discharge a bit of karma before the shit hits the fan. It's the last few minutes before closing time at the big fire sale, and all the cash registers are mobbed.
Unfortunately, in way too many cases, self-consciousness entails self-expression. There are only slightly fewer "publishers" than "writers," and more "writers" than demons in the guts of the Gadarene swine. And ninety-nine per cent of them have chosen to oink digitally. A broadband balloon of electromagnetic dreck is oozing from the top of our ionosphere and bulging at the speed of light toward the dumpsters behind Pluto's squalid strip mall, to be slopped on top of Hitler's televisations of the Nuremburg rally. To a radio telescope tripodded on the shore of a methane lake on some shitty distant moon, our published oeuvre must look like a blood blister distended to the point of bursting.
There was a time when we scribblers banished to the contemptible wilderness west of the Hudson River were able to play the simple Essene. We planned our biblo-retirement in terms of inurnment, Qumran-style. Now the sand in which our Dead Sea Scrolls must be buried is composed of drifts of electrons, countless subatomic egos, splintered and sterile as the bits of shivered quartzite that make West Bank dunes writhe like salted slugs.
Apparently huge mobs of The Great Unwashed are born with - what? You can't call it a need, any more than drinking and breathing are needs; those are simply conditions of embodied existence. For artists as well as "artists," it would seem that flushing the psyche is no less metabolic.
But writing is strange. It's easy to posit a dancing gene, or a singing gene, or even a painting gene. We were spasming and belching and smearing our diarrhea on rocks before Ardipithecus ramidus came slouching along. But we've only had the written word for six thousand years - unless the experts are correct in their recent efforts to push it back another thirty centuries by imputing lexical import to the squiggles nobody notices at Lascaux (FaceBook of the Paleolithic). Still, is that long enough deoxyribonucleically to Darwinize writing as an inborn behavior? Is it "natural" to be tinkering with these little bits of alphabet, like a bonobo tweezing termites with a twig? That's the level of skill displayed by most knuckle-draggers with "book contracts" clenched in their prognathous jaws.
These days, becoming a "published author" requires less of a grunt than evacuating the bowels after breakfast buffet at a Mexican restaurant. And if you are among the shrinking minority of mutants who don't even pretend to have this predispositional urge to be literary, I can barely imagine the enviable sterility of your imagination, the lucky numbness of your sensorium. You and your drastically dwinding kind are excused from listening to what I've been assigned to say in this foreword to the new edition of My Hands Were Clean. Bless your vacant souls, you can fuck off to your early earthbound oblivion now.
Unlikely Stories has asked me to exhort everyone else to do something or other in relation to this book. Or maybe I'm supposed to beg them to refrain from doing something else. Whichever, whatever - it keeps slipping my mind. I'll assume that, if everyone else behaves in the desired way, they won't be robbing us.
I'm not sure if I'm supposed, further, to be urging these readers and these writers, these poets in their hundreds of thousands, to behave in other ways that will actually cause our coffers to swell. I'm told swelling of coffers to an exponential degree is made at least theoretically possible by this satellite-engendered pus bubble that swells overhead, assuming it doesn't pop before clearing the heliopause at the fizzling-out point of our niggling solar clump, seventeen-point-six billion miles away.
With a swollen coffer, yearnings for the early arrival of Brahma's Night will evaporate from my mind. The rigmarole of incarnation will begin to take on the illusory appearance of meaningfulness. I will be able to move into an apartment that most human beings would consider at least minimally livable. I'll become acclimated to this coat of skin, develop social skills, and write the complacent sort of smugness that can aspire to Oprah's canon. My words will be secured and copy-protected in the gated community that is Kindle, and everyone else can fuck on their "Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0 Generic License."