Just Because You’re Bored Doesn’t Mean You Have to Be a Surrealist

By Blake Butler

Surrealism is pretty stupid. It’s always just about women with clocks for faces or animals that can use cell phones. It wants you to believe it deserves more attention for pretending everything about the world isn’t just a mess governed by math. You can go pretty much anywhere and see that things are operating more or less as you would expect, until all of a sudden you’re bloody and covered in dirt. Awesome. Meanwhile, somewhere between where realism defeats itself by too carefully maintaining a false sense of calculation and where surrealism bends the lines so far we end up in a cartoon, there is somewhere smushed between the two that’s what a day actually is: both real and what-the-fuck, the actual feeling of being a person.

Jason Bredle is a writer I’ve always liked for how casually he can walk the soft line between the everyday and the absurd—the “serious unserious,” as Ian Svenonius put it. Somehow he’s able to talk about all this messed up shit that happens in life without sounding like he’s working at it on white paper. It's more like he’s telling you a joke but isn’t smiling, and then you realize he’s not smiling and he smiles. “Behind every beautiful place is a massacre,” he writes. This is a good thing, because it explains why whenever I go to the grocery to stand there for a while in the cereal aisle not buying anything I feel like I am being attacked by dogs—sometimes the easiest things seem the hardest, because regardless of whatever else is going on you’re still you.

Carnival is Jason Bredle’s newest book. In some ways it reads like a flooded monologue of someone mesmerized by death, little blocks of text that hover around eating sandwiches in cars and asking questions about their wardrobe and about drowning. It reminded me of driving my car into a hole I hadn’t seen was there, and then just sitting in the car in the hole while the radio keeps going and light keeps on changing somewhere above me.

It’s nice how calm Carnival comes on amidst the strings of abstruse thought, a kind of post-boredom menagerie of scissor shops and Alzheimer’s fantasies and exploding ambulances and the Riverside Clinic for Twenty-Nine-Year-Old Sex Addicts, etc. “When I close my eyes all I see are butterflies,” it goes, but then it continues, “When I close my eyes all I see are strawberries.” Even the dark behind the eyelids is tired of revolt despite the endless inner monologue that somehow finds its way, realizing once again, “I wish I were dead,” but then right after that “I’ve said the words so many times they don’t mean anything anymore.” Here, at least, the effect is somehow both private and a relief, drawn in a tone that feels the way I’d like to think it feels inside an old friend’s head as they sit there staring colors onto a white wall.

Three Poems from Carnival

"City of Lavender"

I had everything I ever wanted to say to you organized in my head but forgot it all when you took my palm in your hand and with your index finger wrote “disaster.” If you were to ask me how I ended up here, I don’t even know. Every night at 8:25 I can’t believe it’s already 8:25 and I’m so happy it’s only 8:25. Sometimes I find tragedy reassuring. Sometimes I want to cry. Sometimes I want to sit in a quiet place. It’s within me to rip my own head off. I don’t want to think about where I’ve been or where I’m going. Can’t you see what type of person I am? Let me tell you about the city. It’s a city of lavender. I can’t remember its name. There are a lot of bank holidays.

"The Party"

Las Vegas, 1999, I wake on a bed of landscaping. Across the pool, I see my boo grinding with another man. I hope nobody's drawn a swear on my face. There are so many vibrant colors. More importantly, music can never be loud enough. It’s as if I’ve never seen my hands before this moment. Ja Rule is on fire. What happened to my shirt? It looks like I spilled a spaghetti dinner and all of today’s gelato flavors all over it. Please don’t make me go in the sun. Do I have all my organs? I just want to find my shoes and space out for a while. The president defines a party as a social gathering for pleasure or amusement. This party is off the hook.

"Better Things"

I met a man who taught me how to look directly into someone's mind. He intended to kill me afterwards but I ran away really fast. I went over to Giancarlo's and he gave me a pair of vibrating underpants "just for fun." I taught a class. I attended a gallery opening. I sat in a convertible for hours trying to control my feelings. The big courtroom scene was coming up and I wasn't prepared at all. Love is an animal in a pool of blood, you said to the jury. You should never assume anything. I've since looked directly into your mind. I've watched your fantasy lover untie the twine from your wrists, place his fingers on your neck. I've watched you run from the people who cut you open in the middle of the night. I've watched as you unravel videotape after videotape into the bathtub, saying to yourself, I always thought I'd do better things.

@blakebutler

Previously by Blake Butler - Who Is Zachary German?

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