My Meteorite: Or, Without the Random There Can Be No New Thing

My Meteorite: Or, Without the Random There Can Be No New Thing

by Harry Dodge

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Overview


New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
One of LitHub's Most Anticipated Books of 2020
An expansive, radiant, and genre-defying investigation into bonding—and how we are shaped by forces we cannot fully know

 
Is love a force akin to gravity? A kind of invisible fabric which enables communications through space and time? Artist Harry Dodge finds himself contemplating such questions as his father declines from dementia and he rekindles a bewildering but powerful relationship with his birth mother. A meteorite Dodge orders on eBay becomes a mysterious catalyst for a reckoning with the vital forces of matter, the nature of consciousness, and the bafflements of belonging.
 
Structured around a series of formative, formidable coincidences in Dodge’s life, My Meteorite journeys with stylistic bravura from Barthes to Blade Runner, from punk to Pale Fire. It is a wild, incandescent book that creates a literary universe of its own. Blending the personal and the philosophical, the raw and the surreal, the transgressive and the heartbreaking, Harry Dodge revitalizes our world, illuminating the magic just under the surface of daily life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143134367
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/17/2020
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 538,782
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Harry Dodge is a writer and visual artist whose work has been exhibited at venues nationally and internationally. His solo and collaborative work is held in numerous institutions, such as the Museum of Modern Art, NY; Hammer Museum, LA; and Museum of Contemporary Art, LA. In 2017 Dodge was awarded a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship. He lives with his family in Los Angeles.

Read an Excerpt

1

 

June 2009 The place where my mom died was a nightmare. It was industrial dying, industrial death. It was a hospice, they said it was a hospice (but it was huge, with a lot of beds) and the reputation of these places is, Wow, why did we wait so long to get our loved one into a hospice? In other words, you hear Suddenly, wowee, now that they're in hospice, these nearly dead folks have tons of sweetness, cleanliness, and care from people who know how death works, how crippled, dying, drooling people gasping for breath are best comforted. One true detail is that a dying person could only stay in this particular hospice for three days. The lady actually said, Hopefully she dies soon so we don't have to relocate her. There were black plastic body bags being zipped up and uniformed transport drivers hustling them around on gurneys like it was a fucking grocery store. Zip, zip, zip, zip, zip, zip. There were automatic double doors with a black mat like at Target and they swished open both at once like industrial wings. There were full-grown trees outside and deep, soft, green lawns proliferated in the contiguous expanse as far as I could see.

 

May 2017 My dad died today in Pasadena. I had seen him two weeks before but blew it and hadn't gone back. I thought I had more time. I gotta go, I told him, I'll be back tomorrow. And now there is no tomorrow for Dad. I love you Dad. I said to him, his gray wandering eyes. Why do people's eyes start to go gray when they're dying? He looked at me though, and gravelly, with effort, managed to get out, I love you too Dad. And formed a crooked smile. These words he meant, and meant politely, because he did and (also) did not know who I was. I love you too Dad. I like that for last words, don't you? It's Father's Day soon, in a few days. We're all fathers. My son, when he was little, was excited about special occasions. He had a cognitive leap just preceding Mother's Day when he was two, and thought every celebration was an offshoot of this one. Happy Birthday Mother's Day, he would say. Happy Mother's Day Father's Day.

 

 

Roland Barthes says that even if a thing seems to be the same as another thing, treat it as if it were different. This is a behavioral exhortation, make no mistake. In Deleuze's meditation Difference and Repetition, he too suggests that even a thing that repeats has differences worth noting, worth praying to. He doesn't say the word pray but I know what he means. I don't even mean pray when I say the word pray. I mean a different thing, but I use this word. (I'm not spiritual-this is doctrinaire-so PRAY TO WHOM would be my question.) In a not-so-strange fold, or LITERARY PUCKER even, this exemplifies my current point: a word seems to be the same but is in possession of differences worth noting, worth jacking off to, in other words. Super-sexy differences.

 

June 2015 La Verkin Creek, Campsite 6, Zion National Park, Utah. My son Lenny, who is ten years old, sharpens a pencil with his small knife. I interrupt his preadolescent concentration, Look baby, at the pink of that in the late afternoon sun, it's like flesh, the flesh of the Earth. The meat of the Earth, or a steak or a block of flesh. I observe color first, surface, the matted, torn face of the thing, bright pulsing orange and now pink. These soaring buttes are close, just past the creek, beyond a stand of billowing cottonwoods which leak prodigious tufts of silky parachute seeds. (The air is riffled of this meretricious down, causing us to be able to see the shape of the wind as it attends the valley bottom. Gusts, planar whooshes, slipstreams and more.) I can't help but think of this rock as slabs of blood-soaked, vulnerable body parts laid out to test our moral compasses, our greed. I am moved by the show of trust. I want to lay hands upon hot rock, say the best thing, be right and true and real. I'm moved every day, all day in places like this. Thunderously large. Lenny has taken them in visually-the buttes-but his reply is snipped, Hm. He doesn't like being told what to think about the geologic presences here, but I can't help test-running this: a mild-mannered introduction to a strain of homespun geologic theosophy I've been stirring in solitude for a lifetime. Then he relents. Yeah, he says, I see what you mean. He says it politely because he does, and does not, know what the hell I'm talking about. I adjust my featherweight folding chair and he finishes the pencil sharpening with a flurry of quick, controlled mini-strokes right at the tip of the thing. I hear the creek again, uncoordinated soprano trills, a susurrating concatenation of small bells. The natural pool at our site is large enough for both of us, standing or sitting. I watch him, my son, I watch the trees, I watch the dense masses of white fluff, I watch the stones ache as the sun careers away for the evening. One bat exits a hole in the rock behind us and flies drunkenly over our camp. I appreciate it as a basic notching into the continuum of disorderly conduct. Hey boss, I think silently to the insect-like knob of floating flesh as it disappears into the massive, tangled, arboreal crown of willow, aspen, oak, and sycamore.

 

Lenny scrawls a list of animals (ones we've spotted so far) on the back cover of the book I'm carrying on this trip: My First Summer in the Sierra, an early work by John Muir, first published in 1911.

 

Rattlesnake: 3 ft., beige, dark brown tetrahedrons

 

Warren snake, 8 in., ginger, gray stripe on head

 

Black and yellow striped lizard, 10 in.

 

Blue and beige with orange cheeks, 4 in.

 

Plateau lizard, spotted, gray yellow, red head

 

Desert Jack Rabbit with white tail

 

Ducklings, Mallard?, yellow and black head, about 1 lb. each

 

Bats. Smallest 7 in., Biggest 12 in. about 10

 

Wild Turkey, cream with brown spots, yellow face

 

Red and gray ground squirrel

 

Tawny-colored Rune

 

One loud strange bird call, Falcon? Condor?

 

Black and gray toads

 

4 in. hummingbird, black head

 

Weird tapeworm; dark white

 

Ring-tail Cat

 

January 2016 I have had an e-music membership for years. These credits, almost fourteen dollars' worth, will lapse at midnight-in an hour-if I haven't used them. Why can't I think of anything to get here, jeez. Sampling the algorithmically generated suggestions is unproductive, but now Dead Moon pops into my head; a happy idea, tornado from nowhere. Click and click, yes. I abandon prudence, buy two.

 

In Dead Moon the guy's voice sounds like the singer from AC/DC, wiry, scraping birdish emanations, and there's a jagged, fat guitar sound that falls apart as soon as it emerges from the amplifier. They have a girl in the band, Toody Cole, so the pleasures of listening are unmitigated, a pure stream without need for any transpositions or apologia. I saw them in New York live once and during a lightly thrumming, somewhat hypnotic musical bridge, the drummer poured a few bottles of beer onto his tom. When the song kicked back in they backlit his percussive eruption-two big sticks onto the head-which resulted in (not only an aural but a visual) beer-fucking-explosion.

 

 

In the movie Transcendence the protagonist, as he dies, figures out a way to upload his consciousness into the hard drive of a supercomputer. As I remember it now, just over two years since viewing, he is then able to enjoin with the brute computational force of the machine and exponentially grow his intelligence until he is in possession of a sort of primal god-like understanding of the physical world. I recall watching him orchestrate this wild, incalculable eco-cleansing of every molecule in the observable universe and feeling (involuntarily) seduced by this idea-a technological crucible in which nature is re-rendered as perfect, uncontaminated.

 

May 2017 By the time I got there, to him, to his body, he had started to cool. I pulled the sheet off his face and placed my flat hands on the sides of his head. Lukewarm head. My hands slid to the back of his neck which was warm, normal, perfect. I put my mouth on his cheek. And said the word okay like fifty times. We say things. His mouth was stuck open about an inch, and also I spent some time closing his eyes. I touched him all over his chest, he had got so thin, just bones and cooling organs now, I touched his arms, massaging and comforting him, and he paid no attention to me, was just cooling. I held his hand and waited for Maggie just like that, frozen, tugging at his fat paw (wept like a storm, like water, ugly crying) and the hand warmed back up, stealing my heat, felt normal, perfect. I haven't been around corpses much, she said when she walked in. You get used to it pretty fast. I wiped the snot off my nose. Touch the back of his neck, it's still warm.

 

November 2015 Phone is ringing. I usually never pick up but it's an Arizona number and I worry about my father who is questionably healthy. (Last time it was an Arizona number a nurse had phoned to inform me that my dad was fresh from a quadruple bypass! And after a week at Mayo Clinic, needed to go home! They were calling specifically to inquire was I sure he had enough daytime help. I was teaching in NY and knew of no one in the entire American Southwest that was prepared to help my dad repair from surgery. Even I, ashamed, waited two more weeks before catching a flight to check on him.) But this call-this time-it's the police. A lady cop needs to be assured that I am my father's keeper and forthwith hands him the phone. I hear blaring in the background.

 

My dad's voice is breathy, uncharacteristically squeaky. I can't remember the number to the alarm. I, ah, can't recall, and now the police are here and they found your number on the wall of my office. Can you remember the code to the alarm? He sounds like he will cry, like a little goddamn baby. And I can hear the alarm percussively whooping like an evil spaceship in the background. Why do they make that shit so loud? I feel bad for him.

 

What the hell do I know Dad? I don't know anything about your life. I don't know any numbers Dad. He breathes into the phone, makes static happen. I breathe into the phone too there is nothing else to do. And then a number pops into my head. I do know one code!

 

Maybe it's the same as your gate code Dad. It is his birthdate plus my birthdate, which is cute and like a miracle if you know my dad, who during my childhood had had a brick for a heart, a brick instead of a heart. Get a pencil, write this down, try 2931, Dad, 2-9-3-1.

 

Okay, he says, and is talking to someone else, this lady cop I guess, and then the phone goes dead.

 

March 2016 I'm reading that experts think of self-driving cars as imminent, in a few years' time everyone's gonna be zooming around like it's goddamn Minority Report up in here, there's gonna be little solo cabs with no steering wheels and flat hard seats like we're on loungey little roller coasters or baby trains at the park. We will like them, these cars, or we'll just fucking stay home. Apparently the most difficult part of the robotics challenge is to build nuanced perception into the visual abilities of the machine. Although this is something humans excel at-we're intensely visual creatures and can easily parse two different iterations of the same breed of dog, for example-it is difficult for programmers to quantify and program the subtlety we so naturally employ when we see. (We like to watch, we're professional biological voyeurs. No shame in that.) John Markoff, in Machines of Loving Grace, wonders not only when we'll have the first self-driving car, but how long before we have the first fatality related to a self-driving car-and who will be held responsible? The web of inventors, testers, engineers, is extensive, and once a vehicle is liberated, once it's out on the open road, there are infinite other forces brought to bear: other drivers, walkers, municipal infrastructure, weather, errant baseballs, and even momentarily refracted emissions of ancient sunlight.

 

 

Narratives of invention are most often characterized by a lightbulb moment, e.g., a single idea has fruited in a single mind. But when one looks meticulously, one finds that each of these ideas had been incubating for a very long time and that any discovery is the emergent, even inevitable, result of hundreds of discoveries by hundreds of others. Technology is the manifestation of nature-cultures in time; a category of history. Another way of saying that is, knowledge accrues (and perspicacity prevails and knowledge accrues). But, sedimentation can still surprise (even the sluttiest philosophers). Take, for example, the accretionary lava ball, which is a rounded mass ranging in diameter from a few centimeters to several meters, carried on the surface of a lava flow (pahoehoe, aa, or even on cinder-cone slopes). An accretionary lava ball is formed by the molding and folding of viscous lava around a core of already solidified lava. It rolls. Hot, cold, hot, cold, thump, WHUMP, thump. This reality is a snowball of fire rolling down a hill of red-hot rock.

 

 

I went to Houston the day after I ordered it. Each person I met I then told about the rock. Total strangers. I told them it was coming in the mail. From eBay. That it was expensive. That it was from outer space. That it had a deep bend in it, had been gooey at some point and then hardened, like a piece of chewing gum but the size of a large dog's head. I made the shape of an invisible dog head by holding my hands into cuppish, claw-like shapes in front of me, down at waist level, for some reason, I never held the invisible dog head near their faces. I told them my rock was handsome, magnetic, and that it had a deep furrow, one total fold. Like a hand, like a heart. And made of iron straight from a star.

 

2

 

When I was seven I started to log all the books I read and finished. I worked on it with a ruler, making a table, assiduously reinscribing each mildly industrial blue line with an obsessive, sweaty graphite one of my own. Books were registered chronologically, title, author and a sort of junior critic rating which started at zero stars and went up to four. Scores of books were catalogued in this manner until I was halfway through high school.

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