“The universe heaves with laughter, and I’m all about my lopsided, self-defining tale. How I came to be me, not you, how I’m shaping me for you, the way my posse and other native informants do for me, how I’m shape-shifting. I’m telling you that I’m telling you; my self is my field . . .”
The time is now, and Ezekiel Hooper Stark is thirty-eight. He’s a cultural anthropologist, an ethnographer of family photographs, a wry speculator about images. From childhood, his own family’s idiosyncrasies, perversities, and pathologies propel Zeke, until love lost sends him spiraling out of control in Europe. Back in the U.S.A., he finds unexpected solace in the image of a notable nineteenth-century relative, Clover Hooper Adams. Zeke embarks on a project, MEN IN QUOTES, focusing his anthropological lens on his own kind: the “New Man,” born under the sign of feminism. All the old models of masculinity are broken. How are you different from your father? Zeke asks his male subjects. What do you expect from women? What does Zeke expect from himself? And what will the reader expect of Zekeis he a Don Quixote, Holden Caulfield, Underground Man, or Stranger?
Kaleidoscopic and encyclopedic, comic, tragic, and philosophical, Men and Apparitions showcases Lynne Tillman not only as a brilliantly original novelist but also as one of our most prominent contemporary thinkers on art, culture, and society.
|Publisher:||Soft Skull Press, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
and nonfiction. Her novel No Lease on Life was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction, and her essay collection What Would
Lynne Tillman Do? was a finalist for the National
Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism. Tillman’s writing appears often in artists’ books and museum catalogs, including, most recently, those of Raymond Pettibon, Joan Jonas, Cindy Sherman,
and Carroll Dunham. She is a recipient of a
Guggenheim Fellowship and a Creative Capital/
Warhol Foundation grant for arts writing, and is a
Professor/Writer-in-Residence at the University of Albany. She also teaches in New York City’s
School of Visual Arts, in its Art Criticism and
Writing MFA Program. She lives in Manhattan with bass player David Hofstra.
Read an Excerpt
The end doesn't depend on the beginning, it upends beginnings, also provokes new ones. If the end comes, it's to one person, and could spark beginnings in others.
The beginning starts in history, not as a single event, though every birth is singular, and every death, also, but death and birth repeat themselves, the way history does, until no one remembers. — Ezekiel H. Stark
SELF-NARRATION, OR WILDNESS OF ORIGIN MYTHS
The universe heaves with laughter, and I'm all about my lopsided, selfdefining tale. How I came to be me, not you, how I'm shaping me for you, the way my posse and other native informants do for me, how I'm shape-shifting. I'm telling you that I'm telling you; my self is my field, and habitually I observe, and write field notes.
Ethnographer, study yourself. Ethnographer, heal yourself.
There was a no-time, with time outs — a long time ago, Way Before Now. Space and time, on a continuum, bend in relationship, and I imagine that soon I will, in some sense, return to the past. Whenever I want.
Routine settles, creeps in: I've performed the same acts for thirty-eight years, like eating breakfast. You were eating breakfast, you have been eating breakfast, you are conjugating breakfast ever since your mother set food before you, and now you're feeding yourself only if you shop for it, or maybe you went back to the land to raise it, but not everything, you don't and can't raise everything. I was damn fortunate: meals appeared regularly, I'm no ingrate. That was part of "my home."
You were spoon-fed, and it landed plop on the floor, or you the baby threw it. Bad boy. Throw a tantrum, make a mess, soon you have to clean it up — break it, buddy, it's yours, in pieces, because you are responsible; and, true, things go to pieces when not actually broken. Abstractions get broken. Ideas get broken. I have seen the best minds of my gen ... Me talking 'bout the flawed life, totally.
Going to sleep, that gets tired, ha, the regularity, and boredom might cause my chronic insomnia, so it's cool when you don't know you're falling asleep, then you wake up and the TV is on. You open your eyes, weird. To dream becomes the best reason to sleep, especially if you do (I do) conscious dreaming, and get to choose: a dream becomes a podcast or movie. Otherwise, nightmares pit REM sleep with terror.
I listened to a podcast of an old TV news program and heard a Soviet and Russian historian, Stephen Cohen, argue with a total jerk. Completely exasperated by the fool, Cohen finally said, "With all due respect, you don't know what you're talking about." I swallowed the moment like a hallucinogen. That's so fucking rare ... it tears up Max Weber's cage.
That's my goal, to tear it up. Me, especially.
I don't get high anymore, antidepressants keep me sort of level, and don't combine well with recreational drugs. Living drug-free is a sort of high, except clarity can get ugly.
My analyst suggests that I elongated my kid-hood by delaying leaving home. No big deal, really typical.
I suffer from abulia, which my analyst says is an abnormal lack of ability to act or make decisions. I like the word. So, I say to my analyst, "Abulia ... I'm another Hamlet. Look what happened to him." I dither, weigh both sides, make lists, advantages, disadvantages.
My mother was a permissive parent, finishing college in the midsixties, and didn't want to parent like her uptight parents who let her know she was on her own. Mother had a small trust fund from her maternal grandmother, and did an M.A. in English, then met a man who became her husband, my father, and started a family, as they put it. Father didn't drink then, I mean, excessively. They had us, spacing Bro Hart and me, then an accident — Little Sister — she had to have been. Father, I don't know what his wishes were, but I don't think he fulfilled something in himself. Anyway, he became a functional drunk; Mother kept loving him, maybe. Takes all kinds. He was absent for me, hooked up to his necessaries, like to a breathing machine. I'd come home after school or tennis lessons, walk over to the couch, and his watery eyes were just pools.
Staring at photographs of him when he was young, when I was young, comforted and bothered me. Here was evidence of a bright-eyed guy beside the dull living person I knew, and it was discrepant, though I wouldn't have said it like that then, couldn't put the two together, it didn't compute that the boy had turned into this man, my father.
In childhood, desires and passions are seeded. In adult- hood, they flower into interests and manias.
PICTURE: ME IN A FRAME (FRAMED)
My frame of reference is cultural anthropology. Clifford Geertz says that "doing ethnography is like trying to read (in the sense of 'construct a reading of') a manuscript ..."; that "culture is public because meaning is." I do ethnography by working with photographs; also with the human absorption in images, and with the many forms and senses of image, creating an image, loving an image, etc. My specialty — family photographs.
Images don't mean as words mean, though people (and I) apply words to them.
Photographs can create images, but they are not images per se, they are things, a physical object. An image doesn't have to be based on a photograph. It is a mind-picture, or an image is a picture in the mind. A photograph may inspire or foment an image or images. An image is a concoction, often manufactured, meant to create a way to be seen, viewed, understood. It can be aerie faerie, a phantom, phantasm.
Can an image built out of self-consciousness lie?
I wear a brimless hat, because it's cool. Does it tell a lie about me?
I take a photograph, I don't take an image.
(Unless I'm a vampire. Haha. Vampires don't look like the ones on TV, the living dead are regular people, who suck you dry.)
A mind is not a brain. Or, a brain is to a mind what a photograph is to an image. And they can be conflated, brains and minds, images and photographs, and sometimes I do it too.
Virginia Woolf — Mother's fave — says that words also can't be pinned down: "[Words] do not live in dictionaries ... they hate anything that stamps them with one meaning or confines them to one attitude, for it is their nature to change ... It is because the truth they try to catch is many- sided, and they convey it by being themselves many-sided, flashing this way, then that. Thus they mean one thing to one person, another thing to another person."
But a photograph doesn't own even a wayward dictionary, though semioticians work it, finding ways to read one. Even vertiginously, words have definitions, to name and rename objects in a cascade of tautologies. A synonym loops, loop de loops.
The antique game of telephone: the last to hear, in a string of listeners, will have (hear) an entirely different story from the first.
Looking can be benign or malevolent; looking entails everything human, and our instinct to look keeps us close to our evolutionary partners and antecedents in crime and development. If a deer spies a human, it will determine its level of threat. A deer runs if an unknown creature gets closer than what it perceives as safe. And deer are stupid, nice to look at but dumb as doors.
Now, people are stealthier in their observations, but the same principle applies: the need to clock others. A stranger enters a room, a group of familiars note her or him, no one moves, a second, thirty seconds pass until one brave familiar strides across the floor, to the door. The stranger introduces himself, and the familiar brings the stranger into the room, and soon others come closer and sort of sniff him. If no one moves toward the door: stasis, unless the stranger boldly enters and quickly identifies himself — I'm Michael, Donald's friend. Imagine if the person entered but didn't identify himself. Discomfort would be fierce.
Who is a perfect stranger? Is there a "complete stranger"?
Humans assess others shoddily, errors in judgment they're called. People can be poor at sniffing out an enemy, lack discernment, even common sense, and fail at comprehending dangers, signs. Supposedly our big brains allow for more choice, for being sensible, and are capable of complex thinking, etc. Other theorists work diligently on this problem; for one, economists, who analyze rational and irrational consumption patterns.
Just saying, as a person who studies groups: people fall in love with the wrong people, make the wrong friends, trust the wrong bank manager, and associate with hurtful, vengeful people.
Wolf families have a scapegoat; no wolf picks on any other wolf except an outsider (exogamous) male who tries to pick off the pack's females or eat its cubs. A fight happens then, often to the death. Otherwise, it's the scapegoat who's pushed around. He or she eats last, even when he's the brother, say, of the alpha who eats first. No mercy for a scapegoat.
In human groups, scapegoats exist to keep the tribe united.
Call human scapegoats "victims."
Generally, people drop imprecise clues. Unlike other animals that mark territory with piss or rub scent on trees, human displays or signs can mystify, at least be ambiguous. The worst, the most troubled and damaged, might be the best at keeping their worst signs on the down low. Yet an extremely foul-smelling human on a train clears the car.
Imagine if untrustworthy lovers gave off a specific odor.
A traditional sign, the wedding ring, signifies as few contemporary interpersonal and social signs do. But it also has scant weight in some Western circles and might even encourage a "free-ranging" male or female to pounce onto someone's spouse. No consequences. Haha.
When I was fifteen, I met a philosopher, ninety years old, and, halfkidding, asked him, "You're a philosopher, so, what do you think about?" He was kind to a smart-ass high school boy, answered seriously, I thought, with a twinkle in his eye, because I don't know what else to call it — a glint? The philosopher repeated my question, seemingly asking himself: "What do I think about? Love. I think about love, I always think about love."
Love — platonic, romantic, sexual — appears in human– animal stories, and mine. A common trope, the love dope. Kidding. The grand passion, l'amour fou, mine is long running and deep, if mad love can run the distance. No kidding.
People repeat themselves, usually don't know it, and I hate repeating myself (but if I didn't, who would? Kidding), but no one is considered herself, himself, without doing it. Consistency = repetitive behavior. A groove grinds itself into the brain, a beat or melody runs the neural pathways. On repeat, repeat, repeat. The most popular songs, the most repetitious: "All about that bass, 'bout that bass." Can't stop singing it.
The mind fuck.___
Does the way you fall in love /___
go the same way /___
love on repeat or replay?
Similarly, family attitudes, though they aren't obvious like rhythms and lyrics, get beat into us. Neurosis and Love are grooves, and they get deeper.
Excerpted from "Men and Apparitions"
Copyright © 2018 Lynne Tillman.
Excerpted by permission of Soft Skull Press.
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