Remixed notes on 'A Monster's Notes'
Last week, columnist Ed Park reviewed "A Monster's Notes" by Laurie Sheck. This is his remixed, expanded, deconstructed/reconstructed remake of that review.
“Good idea the repetition. Same thing with ads.” -- Joyce, "Ulysses"
Mary Shelley’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, died 10 days after giving birth to her.
“This is ordinary. I was a body coming out of another body that died. That died because of my body.” -- Laurie Sheck, "A Monster’s Notes"
“This was scant said but all cried with one acclaim, nay, by our Virgin Mother, the wife should live and the babe to die.” -- "Ulysses"
I don’t know which file contains my review in the form of notes and which contains my notes for the review in the form of notes.
Bloomsday now. Still writing this.
In the midst of putting together this monster I get an e-mail from R., who writes that our friend J. has to take high-blood pressure medication because she drinks too much coffee, which makes me laugh. But also that J. “had this horrifying story about recently running into a crime scene near her house where a man had been cut into little pieces in a box.”
The fiction of poet Laurie Sheck’s novel "A Monster’s Notes" is framed by a letter, dated June 30, 2007: “This is to inform you that the final closing on your building at East 6th Street was successfully completed. . . . [Y]esterday afternoon as I made my last walk-through, I found on the second floor a shorter note, a manuscript wrapped in a rubber band, and an old computer. . . .”
Page 271, in its entirety: ". . . The monks in their patchwork rags . . . and I a patchwork . . . the workings of each mind a patchwork, each self roughly stitched as you stitched me."
“Winter darkness pulls over like a monk’s cowl, enclosing us in worlds where strange things take place, where anything can happen, where the mind goes where it’s never gone before, and stays.” -- Gretel Ehrlich, "The Future of Ice"
Fungibility of the notebook mode. Juxtaposition is easy, at times even arbitrary; effects perhaps no less revelatory or pungent.
On Amazon’s Omnivoracious blog, Tom writes: “Ed Park's notes on 'A Monster's Notes' by Laurie Sheck: ‘I started this review before finishing the book, in the form of notes. I didn't know I was writing the review yet. I have another file just as long. Fungibility of the notebook mode. Juxtaposition is easy, at times even arbitrary; effects perhaps no less revelatory or pungent.’ [His notes weren't really revelatory for me -- what do you think?]”
I think you’re wrong.
And we’re not done yet.
“The whole issue of the unfinished is a living idea,” writes the monster in his “Notes on Eva Hesse.” “[S]omething unfinished changes. That means it’s in a certain way alive.”
“Save your screams until you see its face.” -- movie poster, "It’s Alive!" (1974)
“It’s such a gamble when you get a face.” -- Richard Hell, “Blank Generation” (1977)
“Years later when I got smallpox it was as if that hatred was finally writing on my face. Scrawling all over it. That it had been waiting all those years. . . . My ugly, ruined face.” -- Mary Shelley to stepsister Claire, "A Monster’s Notes"
Clerval was Victor Frankenstein’s faithful friend, destroyed by the monster in Shelley’s novel, but in “A Monster’s Notes” he’s living in China, translating "The Story of the Stone," or "A Dream of Red Mansions," or "Dream of the Red Chamber," 18th century, originally published anonymously. Unfinished by the author, who is Cao Xuequin, or is he. Commentary by “Red Inkstone,” who might also be Cao.
Unfinished by the author and hence potentially perfect, endlessly expandable in the mind.
Partial list of books never completed by their authors, but published: Georges Perec, "53 Days." Ralph Ellison, "Juneteenth." Jane Austen, "Sanditon." P.G. Wodehouse, "Sunset at Blandings."
Nabokov, "The Original of Laura," to be published.
J.G. Ballard, "Conversations With My Physician," never to be published. David Foster Wallace, "The Pale King," to be published.
Title of Musil book: "Posthumous Papers of a Living Author." Published.
“[E]very book in the world is out there waiting to be read by me.” -- Roberto Bolaño, "The Savage Detectives"
Read that some scholar said the unfinished fragments of stories on the late Roberto Bolaño’s computer could be read as having conclusions -- they ended, sometimes mid-sentence, in a way that made as much sense as if he’d actually finished them. Now mortality shapes them, a hidden theme emerges.
Where did I read this thing about Bolaño’s abbreviated works? Real? A dream?
Note to self: Take better notes.
Open up the paper: “Roger L. Kay, one of the most prominent analysts of the PC industry, described the new generation of machines as “Franken-products,” a reference to the monster cobbled together from various parts.” -- New York Times, June 7
Cao Xuequin’s "The Story of the Stone." Five volumes in the Penguin Classics edition. I bought Volume 1 during my weekly lunch-hour book-buying allowance, at my old job, circa 1996, at Tower Books on Broadway at 4th Street, New York.
Sheck’s monster passes TOWER RECORDS in New York.
Found Volume 2 in a box in front of a store in Cambridge, Mass. I thought it would go on like this, with me finding further installments at used bookstores, stoop sales, Salvation Army shelves. But it stopped there.
“A darkbacked figure scanned books on the hawker’s cart.” -- "Ulysses"
Found in an old folder of mine, notes for an abandoned novel, April 30, 2000: “I believe the Korean War has never ended, just as I believe the 1999 Stanley Cup finals, between the Sabres and the Stars, continues to this day.”
Next page is from a New Yorker piece, dated Sept. 30, 1996, author and article unknown: “Under the narrow legal definition of the term, Tigar found, the only national emergency even hypothetically still in existence in 1969 was, strangely, the Korean War. ‘We argued on appeal that no rational person could think the Korean War was still going on in 1969,’ Tigar explained. ‘The Tenth Circuit agreed, and dismissed the whole case.”
It seems I read 318 pages of Volume 1 of "The Story of the Stone." The bookmark is a business card from Taj Mahal Indian Restaurant, where I used to eat lunch once or twice a week. On the front I’ve written either “locus of history” or “loans of history.” On the back I’ve scrawled some unfamiliar words that I’ve encountered in the book: cangue, flocculus, incrassation, camlet. And this plaintive question: “Why does one begin to read an unfinished novel?”
“Jia She led a cultured life and never did anything.” -- "The Story of the Stone"
The bookmark at P. 178 of Gretel Ehrlich’s "The Future of Ice" is a ticket stub for the Neil LaBute play "Fat Pig."
“If 'The Story of the Stone' is a sort of Chinese 'Remembrance of Things Past,' it becomes doubly important to us to know as much as we can about the author’s life.” -- from David Hawkes’ introduction
Sheck’s Mary: “My days spent imagining his parts.”
Sheck’s monster: “I tried to piece together what I could. The lost Atlantis of her.”
“What words will you cut?” -- "The Story of the Stone"
Cut as in incise. But I’m reading it, now, as abandon.
Strike-throughs, slashes. Brackets and underlinings. Double-strike-throughs. Question marks. Different typefaces. Obelus and ellipsis.
Words and names dissected, syllable by syllable. Silent letters identified. “The silent ‘e’ in hide, the silent ‘i’ in pain and recoil. The silent ‘g’ in sign.”
“If I could see intervals as well as objects...”
“It’s in the silence after you feel you hear. Vibrations. Now silent air.” -- "Ulysses"
“But it must be stressed that metaphor is not a completely successful or controllable means of communication. We employ inadequate language always.”
"I collected bones from charnel-houses and disturbed, with profane fingers, the tremendous secrets of the human frame." -- "Frankenstein"
The lyric essay is a kind of Frankenstein’s monster, equipped with parts sliced out of others, stitched up with genius and white space.
Where a man had been cut into little pieces--
“Those days in the graveyard I traveled across many pages which frequently ended in mid-sentence -- the books I found were mostly torn -- so my travels were wayward, random, disrupted, though maybe the mind mostly travels in this way.” -- "Frankenstein"
Another novel by a poet, Robert Kelly’s "The Scorpions" ends mid-sentence. As does "A Monster’s Notes."
List of books in "A Monster’s Notes" includes Mungo Park’s "Journal of a Journey in Africa."
Mungo Park disappeared in Africa.
As did his son, who went to find him.
“The Japanese word ‘oku’ means not only ‘north’ but also ‘deep,’ ‘inner,’ ‘the heart of a mountain,’ ‘to penetrate to the depth of something or someone,’ ‘the bottom of one’s heart,’ and ‘the end of one’s mind.’” -- "The Future of Ice"
“Sometimes I feel my own body turning into words, my skin a living network of words.” -- "A Monster’s Notes"
I misread “netsuke” for “network.”
“Claire” and “Cerval” both have “err” in them, or “air.”
“My head aches, I’m tired all the time and clumsy. My right hand’s not working right, I drop things for no reason.”
“BE SUSPICIOUS OF ANYTHING.” -- NYC MTA poster, quoted by Sheck
Meditation on themes suggested.
I mistyped “meditation” as “mediation.” “Thems” for “themes.”
Meditation on themes suggested by Mary Shelley’s "Frankenstein."
On spaces created.
My notes written on the endpages, on the upper margins, on a torn sheet of a publicity letter, on a dry-cleaning receipt, across four different files on my laptop. Words in the air.
In China (relates "A Monster’s Notes") every scrap of writing is sacred, to be collected and burned. Words in the air.
Are these my real notes or the ones I will publish? Which version has more energy?
“Twenty-four-hour-a-day sun and I’m living in a skin turned inside out.” -- Gretel Ehrlich, "This Cold Heaven"
Sheck’s novel acknowledges Google searches. Wikipedia. Redirections. All this webwork.
"A Monster’s Notes" is an uncommonplace book. A site for revision, translation, error, confusion, melancholy. Limits of this method. Book is over 500 pages long, not without longueurs. (Could it have worked at 100 pages, at 50?) But heft becomes crucial to the experience. To exhaust the metaphors and the monster.
A mirror, an instant replay, “the automatic relation to himself of a narrative concerning himself.” ("Ulysses")
Sheck: “I’m reading and she’s listening.”
Every line potentially last or first.
-- Ed Park
New York City
Ed Park’s “The Freud Notebook” appears in the latest issue (#17) of Post Road.
Photo: Director James Whale, left, with actor Boris Karloff on break from the 1931 filming of "Frankenstein." Credit: Los Angeles Times