A dream last night, with Kathy Acker in it: something that evaporated in layers as I woke up, full of noisy fragments, from the summer we went to the piers at night, Kathy in a sailor suit and cap, I in a silk Donna Karan blouse, white Courreges boots, and a miniskirt, two heavily lacquered little figures in drag pretending to look for quick ‘n easy sex among the leather queens and bum boys who did it in the trucks, talking very loudly the whole time about Althusser and Roland Barthes, as if sitting in a crowded restaurant. The cobbled streets smelled of blood. Three-legged shadows coupled in the dark. We were an unwelcome hazard of West Street. Our voices broke the rhythm of a dozen blowjobs. We enjoyed scaring people.
Later I remembered the PEN panel. Neither of us had any use for PEN, but we were asked to speak to an audience of émigré writers, from what was then the Eastern Communist bloc. Kathy, me, and a writer I’ll call Bertie Wooster—a pallid, skinny, freckled beanstalk in Farmer John overalls, in the debutante phase of a monstrous career. He’d kicked it off with a very long first novel full of insects and adolescent overreach. He later produced a vast library of longer books, in series, with now and then a little thing no thicker than a pamphlet, as a kind of sorbet. There was this about Bertie Wooster, or Bertie Wooster’s books: he wasn’t so much a force of nature as a contented slave to graphomania, like Joyce Carol Oates. (An Oates intimate once revealed to me that if JCO happened to finish writing a novel en route to the airport, she turned the final page over and started another one without a pause.) Bertie Wooster never stopped writing, apparently. Nothing he wrote could possibly interest an adult human being for longer than ten minutes, yet his books, soon after the PEN panel, became, if not canonical, accepted as naturally occurring ripples in the literary pond, respectfully noted one after another in the New York Review of Books and other places that shaped opinions. He was, I later heard, given a push by Jean Stein.
On the panel, Bertie extolled the unfettered liberty of writers in the West. This surprised us. His then-current, surpassingly fat first novel had seemed, in a confused, allegorical way, critical of the capitalist order and its insurmountable contradictions. But then, I had never finished his first novel. Neither had Kathy. Life was too short. Perhaps a volte-face in favor of free markets and Chicago School neoliberalism had been affected in the second chapter. At any rate. There was something of the high school valedictorian about him. He sounded very much like the spawn of a clapboard colonial in Greenwich, unscrolling an address of uplifting homilies. I’m sure he wasn’t from Greenwich. He looked like a hick.
“It falls to each successive generation to uphold the Jeffersonian ideal—” “As Lincoln said in a time of civil war—” “To quote George Orwell in his magnificent allegory—”
“He’s going to pull an American flag out of his ass and fart ‘the Star-Spangled Banner’ in a minute,” Kathy predicted in a whisper, eyes huge with incredulity. We were startled by this blather, which frankly seemed more pandering to the PEN club than to the émigré writers. Maybe PEN would give him a merit badge. Kathy and I were not especially intoxicated by the ever-ringing liberty that involved, at the time, having our books automatically trashed or ignored by the coven presiding over the New York Times Book Review, the New York Review of Books, and, in Kathy’s case, Vanity Fair. I think we assumed the wildly applauding literary refugees did not understand what Bertie Wooster said, or were being polite.
When my turn came I offered that in spite of the disaster of “really existing socialism,” a Marxist analysis of society was still valid. I mentioned Reagan, his war on unions, the growing chasm between rich and poor. Kathy expressed the thought that Capital isn’t a predictive book, or a utopian tract, but an epic novel about economic relationships, with industrial machinery and consumer products as the central characters. Naïvely, we wanted the audience, trained dialecticians all, to know that we knew that America is only as much fun as Disneyland if you happen to own it. We assumed the new arrivals already knew that.
The Eastern bloc writers were aghast, however. They wanted “the Star-Spangled Banner.” Their hero was Ronald Reagan, friend of thoughtful people everywhere. One apoplectic Hungarian likened us to Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu. The cocktail reception afterward was thinly cordial. The male writers leered at Kathy’s tits. The PEN people were in puppy heaven. The panel had been “spiked with controversy.” Today the same Eastern Europeans report their disgust with America in little émigré journals published in Europe. After a couple of decades, it sank in that literature has no importance here whatsoever. Some of them even hint that they miss Communism, which is taking things a little far.
I have been shooting some tests for a video involving puppets. Puppets terrify me, the result of watching Michael Redgrave and his dummy in Dead of Night at a tender age. I was once a contributor to Pleasant Gehman’s Puppet Horror, a zine that doubled as a support group for people traumatized by puppets. I’m not trying to overcome my fear of them; I know it’s hopeless even to try. I’m only intent on taking revenge on puppets by making them recite my lines instead of theirs for a change.
It occurred to me that I might glean puppeteering tips by watching the DVD of a movie chock full of dummies: Hitler: A Film From Germany, the 442-minute epic by Hans Jurgen Syberberg. Who is, by the way, unquestionably the most repellent, insipidly autocratic creep I ever met in the film business, aside from Peter Greenaway. Back in Hitler’s glory days, I watched its seven-hour entirety at an early, two-intermission screening; later, a friend towed me to two other screenings, one at Lincoln Center and the other at the Goethe Institute.
I have to admit that all seven hours held my attention in a vise at every viewing. Anything featuring Hitler has that effect on me, as Hitler himself had on so many millions. Hitler is the only individual in history, besides Jesus Christ, to exert such unflagging fascination. Jesus because so little is really known about the life of this charismatic personality, apart from hearsay written down a century after his execution, and Hitler because, despite the fact that everything about his life is well-known and the historical reasons for his rise to power documented from every conceivable angle, the ability of this semieducated, flat-faced, creepily androgynous crackpot to copy the rise of Napoleon and plunge the world into Götterdämmerung remains inexplicable. Thomas Bernhard has written of the confusion he and his classmates experienced, during and after the Second World War, between Adolf Hitler and Jesus Christ, since the mindless adulation of Adolf Hitler demanded during the war was in no way different from the mindless adulation of Jesus Christ demanded after the war, when a portrait of Jesus Christ at his school replaced the one of Adolf Hitler as an object of worship and glorifying song.
Recently, Pope Benedict XVI, whose own affinities with Nazism have always been a matter of alarmed scrutiny, like those of his now-distant predecessor, Pius XI, announced his retirement from the Papacy. An unprecedent circumstance, according to a recent Guardian article, since Pope Celestine V’s resignation in 1294. Of course there were competing antipopes in Avignon and Pisa during the 12th and 13th centuries, rival Papal claimants recorded by Eusebius as early as the 3rd century, schismatic pope-like patriarchs of the Eastern Orthodoxy since the founding of the Church, and popes of every stripe and description for two millennia. But with a few ancient exceptions, the pope in Rome has never left his so-called See before his expiration date—probably hastened, in the case of Pope John Paul I, the so-called 23-Day Pope, in 1978, by Michele Sindona, the sinister manager of the Vatican Bank at the time, and Sindona’s associates in P2 Masonic lodge, a right-wing terrorist group—unless unseated by a coup d’etat.
Parenthetically, there was a certain cruel hilarity about John Paul I’s abbreviated Papal tenure. He seemed like a nice pope, who didn’t mean anybody any harm. It was pretty obvious that he’d been murdered. A pope always hangs on for centuries, so when that one bought the farm in less than a month, you kind of had to laugh, even if it wasn’t really very funny. Walter Steding painted a wonderful array of papal portraits of John Paul I right after his assassination. I wish I owned one.
Pope Benedict has never been a sympathetic figure. He is Austrian, like Adolf Hitler, and his advanced age places him among the never-denazified generation of that never-denazified country, which was not merely complicit with Hitler and Nazism, but, if anything, even more rabidly crazy for Hitler and Nazism than the Germans were. When Hitler marched into Vienna after the Anschluss, thousands of Austrians welcomed him in an ecstatic frenzy. Austrians would do it again a week from Saturday. If you don’t think so, just ask any Austrian.
Pope Benedict’s ghoulish eyes and vulpine expressions have always reminded me of Eisenstadt’s portrait of Joseph Goebbels. Benedict’s Bulls and Edicts and Pontifical Remarks on abortion and homosexuality, among many other topics, all under the ridiculous presumption of infallibility, have always seemed to me no less poisonous than Adolf Hitler’s tirades against communists and Jews, however differently expressed.
This highly unusual departure from the throne of God on Earth is a welcome one, but also highly suspicious. Is Pope Benedict XVI retiring to a luxury condo in extradition-proof Vatican City to avoid the unpleasantness of a subpoena? To escape indictment for aiding and abetting the ravishing of altar boys and other small children? Is it possible that Benedict has a heavily gloved hand in the horsemeat scandal? Or, as some have speculated, is Benedict, like Lee Harvey Oswald, “just a patsy?”
Who will fill the Shoes of the Fisherman? A latter-day saint like a male Edith Stein or some doctrinal Idi Amin? A sacristy pedophile or a regular guy who likes his Communion Burgundy and keeps up with baseball, but isn’t ashamed to cry watching Les Miserables? Or could some scaly Beast have slouched into Bethlehem somewhere in the middle past, taken so-called Holy Orders and entered the priesthood, later assuming a Bishopric, and then climbed the holy career ladder to a Cardinalship in some African or Formerly Communist Catholic backwater, in satanic preparation for this very moment when—
Who, who, who will replace the Papal retiree? Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?
The Shadow does: the Devil, probably.
(With apologies to Lamont Cranston)
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