If you ever go in the kind of bookstore that has a coffee bar and someone playing jazz harp you will notice that near the door, right next to the remainder tables, is the magazine section. The front, most visible shelving is, of course, reserved for the better selling serious news journals. “People,” “US,” “Cosmopolitan” and other purveyors of Truth the American Way. But further back, usually near the cooking and gardening section, you will find those pricey, little periodicals with names like “Humping Turtle Review” and “Nebraskan Zen Poetry Semi-Quarterly” that are filled with the meaningless stories currently fashionable among the graduates of the more exclusive writing workshops.
You know the type of story I’m talking about. They take place in some quaint (i.e., paint peeling off the walls and no plumbing) little side street (i.e., back alley) named Rue d’Elitist or Via Pretencion; dwell for pages on the film left in the basin after she washes under her arms; take three hours and two cups of very strong coffee to read; and in the end leave you screaming, “So bloody what!” and wanting to slap the main character, the author, and the publisher if you could find him—or her. Of course, to cover up for the fact that you wasted eight dollars on an occasional quarterly printed on paper more at home in the seedier former Eastern Bloc restrooms you tell everyone it was a powerful, minimalist portrayal of neo-urban sexual tension and negative regrowth in a semi-gendered society reminiscent of Kafka if he had written that way instead of the way he did.
The readership of these journals is pretty much limited to a few graduate students trying to suck up to the chair of their doctoral committee by reading his…or her…latest seventy-three line ode to a torn candy bar wrapper seen while crossing the street once in Gdansk; MFA students preparing for this summer’s Post-Blog Indigenous Mythos writing workshop; and a few seriously intellectual types given to wearing pieces of metal in body parts most of us don't even like to touch all that often.
The management would like to give you fair warning now. This story has no meaning and will fight to keep it that way.
Over the years several, if not the majority, of the stories published by these journals have tried, with wildly varying degrees of failure, to describe the mind. Not, however, the actual workings and/or contents. Let’s face it, the workings and/or contents of the mind are by long-standing tradition the stomping grounds of psychologists, mothers (often in-law), priests and other club-footed busybodies. Anyway they are usually too bizarre for words, at least in polite company, and even Poe stayed away from most of that mire, which is why the aforementioned groups enjoy mucking about in it so much. There is nothing like a little filth and degradation in others to put the fun back into being self-righteous. This isn’t one of those stories. It could be, but I don’t have the energy or the right medication.
Neither is this a story about the space all that other junk is thrown into. At various times, corrected to and uninvaded by E.S.T., this space has been described as a lumber room, corridor, series of closets, file cabinet, movie reel, filthy stinking cesspool, and the only place in the known universe to contain a true vacuum. (The last two were expressed during the rather passionate divorce trial of the couple formerly known as Mr and Mrs Avery Bodet. As it turns out they were both right, but for the wrong reasons.)
Needless to say, but if you are paid by the word you tend to say more than is really necessary, a condition known technically as doing a Pynchon, all of these attempts have somehow failed. The reasons for their failure are almost as varied as the actual attempts, but are mostly concerned with the fact that the few individuals actually out of their minds far enough to be able to make a disinterested description are usually too full of chemicals to hold a pencil.
Philosophers, unwilling to let any debate go unmuddled, especially one so patently pending no final solution, have tried to measure the dimensions of this troublesome space, but when they find their results getting dangerously close to agreeing they sidestep the question by arguing about the proper length of the ruler; seeking new philosophical positions with one of their more attractive, and reasonable, students; or diverting public attention by blaming the whole mess on some poor, innocent by-stander. Usually God.
In other words, they also failed. They just covered up their failings a little more cleverly than the rest of us by being so condescending that we were convinced we had asked the wrong question, or were too stupid to appreciate the more than obvious answer. (The French have used a similar technique to convince the world they know how to cook.) Kant, on the other hand, used the more direct approach of simply being incomprehensible, if not purely reasonable.
They failed primarily because they fell victim to that old wives' tale (which, oddly enough, is usually most actively supported by old husbands) that if Truth, Beauty, and Reality aren’t actually the same thing they have enough in common to make no difference. This insidious concept was given a big publicity boost by Plato, the third most evil man in the history of mankind. Or womankind for that matter.
Guys like Attila the Hun might come through the village raping, burning and killing you in no particular order, but after an afternoon of plundering and pillaging they left your remains pretty much alone. Plato, on the other hand, was not quite so benevolent. He comes along and the first thing he does is separate your soul and your body. Now, before Plato muddled things up, separating your soul from your body had been one of the side effects of a visit by someone like Attila, or an executioner; but Plato, with no regard to how your soul or body might feel about it, or how it might complicate an already problematic relationship, just yanks them apart for no adequately explained reason. Then he sticks you—he’s a bit vague about which bit—in a cave with your back to the door. At least Attila left your remains in familiar surroundings.
The first and second most evil men in the history of the world are, of course, the composer Richard Wagner and the man who invented conference calls. Recently there have been some calls to replace the number two spot with the person who invented webinars, but that concept is so fiendishly useless that it could only have been developed by a committee.
The truth, as any poet could tell you if he or she wasn’t too busy with poetry slams and other forms of verbal mediocrity, is that describing that squalid little place we somewhat pretentiously call our mind can’t be done.