Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Is stand-up comedy possible after Auschwitz?

A priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a crematorium . . .


An avant-garde poet and a Sunday versifier walk into the Elysian fields.

“Hey, what are you doing here?” each says to the other, simultaneously.

“I thought you didn’t believe in ideality like this!” says the Sunday versifier.

“There’s no way you should be here!” says the avant-garde poet.

The poets hedge and billow, airily complaining to each other of this that and the Other, as mass murder happens under our noses. The stench!

Where were you when they crucified our Lord?

Chief, I was playing dice with the soldiers.

Where were you during the Middle Passage?

Boss, I was writing strophic lyrics of my lady’s lack-love.

Where were you during the Indian Wars?

Supervisor, I was writing romantic odes to fowl.

Too foul?

Not at all. Images of song + images of flight = poetry, supervisor.

Where were you during
the Holocaust?

I was writing alienated blank verse lamenting the impossibility of transcendence in the post-World-War world.

That would be the First World War.

It wasn’t called that until the second came along.

Which is what we are talking about.

Where are you now?

I’m critiquing the social basis of meaning through a sustained and explicit focus on language itself.

While mass murder goes on.

Sure – it’s what I’ve always done. What else should I do?

What should anybody do?

Isn’t that the point? What should anybody do?

Funny, we used to talk about, “It can’t happen here.” In America, I mean. But look – slavery, the Indian wars – it happened over and over again here. Now we’re taking it outside – like we have before. Just that, this time, the rest of the world is watching, and the rest of the world disapproves. As do I, of course. I thoroughly disapprove.

It sickens me.


Makes me want to puke.


To throw up my guts.

Yeah, I just want to throw up.

Vomit, hurl, blow chunks.

Call Earl on the big white telephone. EARL! EARRLLLL!

Does Earl ever call back?

No, thank God!

The bastard.

God, or Earl?

Take your pick.

Well, if you’re a Christian, you worship an illegitimate child – a bastard. God is a bastard. Don’t be ashamed. Don’t be offended. It’s in the Bible.

Yes, but a Holy Bastard.

Yes, holiness makes all the difference, right?


Everything that lives.

Is holy.




So what’re you gonna do?

About what?

About today’s mass murderers.


Yeah . . . what.

What. Fut. Mutt. Scut. Dut. Butt. Butt. Y. Knot. Gott. Dot. Spot. Squat. Mott. Blot. Fot. Cot. Rot.

Broken door. Creatures come through, an anaesthetized gecko, a half-eaten baby.
Broken door. The repairperson reaps air. Creatures come through, the rain bogeydog, two celestial harmonists, a fuzzy wocket, three lobsters, an anaesthetized gecko, a half-eaten baby.
Broken door. What is the matter with Mary Jane? The repairperson reaps air. Creatures come through, a giraffe, three poetry curators vituperating furiously, the rain bogeydog, two celestial harmonists, a fuzzy wocket, three lobsters, an aesthetized gecko, a half-eaten baby.
Broken door. And it’s lovely rice pudding for dinner again! What is the matter with Mary Jane? The repairperson reaps air. Creatures come through, eight maids a-milking, ten lords a-leaping, twelve drummers drumming, eleven pipers piping, seven swans a-swimming, a giraffe, three poetry curators vituperating furiously, the rain bogeydog, two celestial harmonists, a fuzzy wocket, three lobsters, an aesthetized gecko, a half-eaten baby.


I’ll tell you one thing, though. It’s a good thing we aren’t writing daisy flower love puke weak-ass imagery-nostalgia narrative poetry!


That stuff sucks!

Yeah, it sucks!

It really sucks!

Yeah, it really sucks!

It sucks eggs. It sucks dick. It sucks clit. It sucks nipple. It sucks socks. It sucks rocks. It sucks down beers so fast it’s a whirly hurly burly swirly!

It’s hitting the ol’ beer bong like Adorno at the frat party, Peter Quince at the Casio!

Bless thee, Bottom, thou art translated!

I’ll bless thy bottom with my hunka hunka holy water!

Oo wee. Bottom, got ‘em.

Sex, pal -- life, right? Death all around – so what, ‘salways been that way, you think not? Empire shmempire. Whoever said they didn’t want to be an empire is lying. Oh sure, maybe a few saints, but whoever said they didn’t want the benefits of being an empire is lying. What’re you gonna give up in order not to live imperially? What’re you gonna give up when the social justice bill comes due? Voluntarily, I mean – what’re you gonna give up voluntarily so that the social justice bill doesn’t come with a gun, so the guns stop killing all them Others who get in the way of our imperial insatiability for endless stuffing. What’re you gonna give up?


That’s right, nothing! You’ll keep the stuffing and give up the nothing! Let the others have the nothing! Plenty of nothing for them! A typical position -- just like most any other compromised denizen of any other empire ever. Live it up, I say, enjoy it! Guilt, good golly! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing! Say it again!

Oh, you are so cynical. I am so sick of your cynicism. From puking disgust to cynical greed-grab in two minutes, setting the ideological land speed record, congratufuckinglations.

Yeah, well so what, what’re you gonna do? Write your anti-lyrical investigations into syntax and signification? Write a letter to your Congressman? Go to a demonstration? Vote?!?!?

Yes, I’m going to do all of those things. Because empire can have different faces. Not just faces – policies. And those policies matter – as do the faces. And we’re not going to stop wanting to be an empire – me neither, when you get right down to it – but maybe we can be an empire that’s a little less murderous and a little more responsible toward the long-term viability of species other than ourselves, and ourselves too. And maybe if enough people call their Congresspeople it will have an effect, because I’ll tell you one thing, NOT calling them is just what they want you to do, NOT voting is exactly what they prefer. And I’m going to write my little beacon of investigation because why the hell not, I like it, and maybe some day this will all look like a bad dream, like slavery does now, a horrible mistake that we’ve gotten beyond – and don’t lecture me, I know slavery still exists, but there has been material benefit to the descendants of American slaves because of Abolition, and you know that and you won’t belittle it. That Eugene Debs crap about as long as one person remains oppressed I’m oppressed too – well, OK, maybe metaphysically, but my physical world is more important, and so is yours, his, hers, theirs, and the rest. Not everybody can be Tom Joad or Jesus or Walt Whitman or Eugene Debs – nor should everybody be.

Dude! So serious!

Yeah, you hate that, I know.

And now you’re going to expect me to go into my spiel about total transformation now or else forget it, but I won’t. Mock mock mock mock mock. Rock rock rock rock rock.

Roll away the stone and walk up out of the grave! Roll that rock! Rock and roll! Roll that stone! Walk away from death! Resurrection is insurrection!

Don’t go there.


Into some quasi-religious spiel.


It’s all a lot of apple sauce. Alan Lerner’s father said that. Sweet, wet, mushy. Religion, I mean. Not everything. Religion.

I don’t know Alan Lerner’s father.

The lyricist. “My Fair Lady,” “Camelot.” He wrote a memoir. His father said that when he was dying. It’s all a lot of apple sauce. Not life. Religion.

People like apple sauce.

You bet! Me too.

But you don’t like religion.




Hmm. Hum. Hymn. Him. Hem. Ahem. A hum. A hummer. A blow job and an armored personnel vehicle re-outfitted for quasi-civilian use. Which do you choose? Do you have to choose? In the empire, you don’t. M-pyre. Mmmm-pyre. Mmm-mmm-good-mmm-mmm-mmm-pire. Umpire. Expire. Impair. The words shade from positive to negative poles, feeling-wise. Rhetoric. The art of feeling-argument. The art of using feeling in argument. Tricky, using tricks, gauging guessing betting on what your auditor would like-feel to hear. So much is unknowable. One does one’s best, one hopes.

It’s all you can do.

Taut! All! A! G! (Tautology.) All you can do is all you can do.

Transcendence? Possible? No, well, maybe, prob’ly not – but! Surprise. Surprising oneself. Pushing past one’s past. And, since, fractally, practically, the whole and the part relate, isn’t it, isn’t it, IS NOT IT POSSIBLE that the species can surprise itself? Who knows? IS NOT IT POSSIBLE that we can – not transcend – but leave behind – leave behind these bad habits, bad decisions, ameliorate the most destructive impulses, tear down those walls Mr. Reagan, unscrew the locks from the doors Mr. Whitman, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not soon and maybe not in our lives, but in some future shock, our descendants look at our folly and mock and laugh that they have left our bad ways behind. How to get there? Who knows! Who hoo hoo hoo hoo! And what to do? Be as if! Be as if! Contingent! Live at once in future hopes and present practicalities. No contradiction between utopian hopes and ameliorative compromise. If you can get to utopia some way quicker than step by step, show the way, show the way, and if not then by all means take those steps while looking beyond, aim high in driving and don’t miss the road.

You got it, the religious vibe. You dissed it but you got it. The religious vibe. That’s what this is about. Any aesthetic experience: It’s religious. An experience of communion. Reading: Communion with the consciousness of the writer -- whether the writer is long dead or in the next room. Theater: Communion with the performers. Sometimes they mediate between the author’s consciousness and the audience’s experience, but an author isn’t necessary for theater. Painting: communion with the painter’s consciousness through the medium of paint. Music: communion with the musicians’ consciousness through the medium of sound -- and with all of these, so often, the consciousness is smaller than the experience, for the artist and the auditor alike -- the music exceeds the musicians’ consciousness, the text exceeds the writer’s, the painting exceeds the painter’s. All these experiences -- yes, they have meanings, but the experiences can’t be reduced to the meanings. The experience is irreducible. And in this respect there isn’t a difference between poetry, fiction, or other prose: They all provide opportunities for the reading experience of communion with the writer’s relationship with language.

Any experience may be irreducible, but that doesn’t mean it’s communion. I wouldn’t call it communion. There’s no bread. There’s no wine. There’s no alter or priest.

Yes, but there’s transformation! Of consciousness. There’s the bread-ifying and wine-ifying of consciousness, not only a simultaneous slowing and quickening of consciousness, where one is both less anxious -- that would be the slowing -- and more alert -- that would be the quickening -- but also a consciousness of community, of being with another, whether it’s the writer or the performer or the DJ or the other dancers or the audience or all of them together. The poet Ange Mlinko calls it “enchantment.” Same thing, whether your metaphor is of magic or of religion, the metaphor refers to this change of consciousness, which is what happens when an aesthetic experience is working.

What about stand-up comedy?

Communion, absolutely. The communion of laughter. The sacred clown, the satirist; the communion with the audience, the dependence of the commedian on the audience, the interchange between them. Say, how many stand-up comics does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

I don’t know, how many?

I don’t know either. I was hoping you would.

How would I know?

I don’t know.

Maybe two.

Two. Why two?

One to try out the material, the other to wait in the wings in case the first one is dying up there.

But they don’t really die.

Sure they do. How is a failed joke like a French orgasm?

I don’t know, how is a failed joke like a French orgasm?

They’re both a little death.

That’s not funny.

I know. And it feels so good! Oh, oh, it feels good, oh, yes, it feel sooo good. Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes, oh yes yes yes yes yes! Ohhhhhh YESSSSS.

Oh great, now you’re going to roll over and go to sleep. Lots of fun for me!

You can take care of yourself. Don’t smoke in bed.

I don’t smoke, except when I’m on fire.

Signalling through the flames.

The Artaud-esque actor like Joan of Arc.

Burn baby burn.

Disco inferno.

Burn the records. Feel the burn. No pain, no gain. Burn all the records. We never had this conversation. Burn the records. The Beatles versus the Christians with the Christians as the lions, throw them into the Colosseum, the crowd roars, the lions roar, the Christians roar, the records go up in smoke, disco inferno, the rock DJs at Comiskey Park, boom! Up in smoke. The world on fire. Giant holocaust. Sacrifice all of it. Only God can make a tree. But we’re working on it, goddamn it! Cloning, the creation of life at the cellular level, we’re working on it. Burn it down! Throw the monuments of culture onto the conflagration. Burn my books, burn my papers, burn my life. Empty the museums and empty the company headquarters, empty the halls of government, and burn them. Fire! Fire! Ready! Fire! All of your pictures, all of your memories, everything most dear to you, burn it! Start again! Phoenix-like, arise! Burn and be reborn, like the forest -- be the forest, harbor the seeds of the Ceanothus shrub, which open only when the fire passes through, be the Ceanothus seeds, burn yourself to open, burn the old and make way for the new, arise from flames, burn!

You don’t believe a word of this, do you.

No, I don’t.

But if it feels good . . .

Do it.

Must utopia be deferred?

Will it ever arrive?

The imperfect is our paradise -- an insurance salesman said that. Beautiful, huh? I mean seriously, it’s a beautiful line. The imperfect is our paradise. But it does sound like something a cynical insurance salesman would say. If the perfect were to arrive, or arise from flames, the insurance salesman would be out of business.

Yeah. So I was partying with Adorno at the frat. The dude could pound beers. An absolute pounder. And, dude, he was a funny drunk. All this blather about absolute intoxication, pure intoxication, the pure drunk. Denouncing the mild buzz as a bourgeois manifestation of the hegemony of the oppressive capitalist state, in which the critical and utopian project of the drunk is evaded; a capitulation to a docile and contented tipsiness in the face the commercial onslaught; a pseudo-individualist pseudo-pleasure fulfilling a pseudo-need for mild consciousness alteration produced by the numbing all-consuming enfolding of the consumerist state; a compromise of drunkardly principle, of the high modernist drunkard’s quest to follow the drunkenness into the blizzardly complexity of pure drink. Upon which pronouncement he would critically face plant and be out of commission until the next afternoon. He called his approach to benders, “negative mixology.” The popular, lyrical drunkenness filled him with nausea. That, and his hangover.

Dang, I’m sorry I missed those parties.

Yeah, you were dating some effete poet who hated the frat.

I’d love to have done beer bongs with Adorno.

I’m telling you, I couldn’t keep up. He had a thirst -- unquenchable! Good times.

Wanna get one?


A coldy.

Nah, got things to do tonight.

Like what?

I don’t know, things.

Like what?

Dude, don’t sweat me. I got things to do.

Yeah, sure, OK, whatever.

Oh, that’s nice, pseudo-affirmation punctuated with the diss disguised as disinterest.


That’s it! So late 20th century, I love it!


The utopian word -- anything whatever is possible.


We could keep this up forever!


Forever whatever. Endless openness. Everwhatever forever. Whatever forever. Everforever. Whatever. Such a beautiful word, made to sound so pseudo-tough and dismissive.


Oh please.




Exclamations fail, explanations flail. We’re no closer than we were.

It’s true.

Is closeness desirable? Or closure?

Some would say no, but that refusal is a period style now. Nothing wrong with period style. But even the refusers of closure -- funny, re-fuse = join-together-again -- even the people who refuse closure desire closeness.

To what? To the audience, to the material?

Yes, wouldn’t you agree?

I don’t see why not.

We could be wrong.

That possibility is always to be considered.

That’s the human condition. Contingency. Partiality. Never comprehending the whole. Except -- the illusion of comprehending the whole is called mystical illumination, and the forging of a new metaphor for the whole is called mystical illumination. It’s quite out of fashion, has been for a more than a century.

Fashion is interesting.

What do you know about fashion?

Very little! But when has that stopped me --

From blathering on and on about something!

It’s interesting, how ideas about truth and beauty change over time. Sociologically and aesthetically interesting. How it comes about remains mysterious. Charisma -- whether charisma of person or of rhetoric or both or something other -- must be part of it, and charisma is never predictable. Our analysis of charisma is very limited. But wouldn’t it be nice to be charismatic?

I think so!

The persona of confidence, rhetorically for sure, and personally as well, has got to be part of it.

So a charismatic person is a confidence artist? Projecting self-confidence and attracting the confidence of others? Quite a responsibility. Some use their skills to swindle their public, but not, I trust, everybody. Adorno was a charismatic thinker (as well as drinker). I don’t think he was out to swindle his readers. His interrogation of the lyric impulse after the horrors of the Catastrophe -- the Shoah -- of the mass murder of Jews by the Germans was hugely influential -- charismatic; writers couldn’t write lyrically without a self-consciousness in part imparted by Adorno’s interrogation. His spurning of lyric could be thought of as rooted in a sense of mourning. Mourning is incompatible with public display of individual aesthetic achievement. How long should one mourn? That will vary from culture to culture, person to person. And is mourning appropriate while the catastrophe is still unfolding? Is the public display of individual aesthetic achievement appropriate while the catastrophe is unfolding? Isn’t the catastrophe always unfolding, somewhere? I should say yes, it is. Its ubiquity does not absolve us of the consciousness that doing nothing to prevent or stop it is evidence of self-centered cold-heartedness. The U.S. invades Iraq, millions and millions of people march to protest it, but the leaders go ahead anyway and murder tens of thousands of people. The people understandably resign themselves to powerlessness in the face of a government so heavily armed, heavily defended, and ideologically protected by the frothingly nationalistic mainstream media. But making symbolic protest still seems valuable -- to put oneself on the record as opposing the atrocities, to communicate to the rest of the world that the barbarities are not universally endorsed. That the state tolerates dissent of all sort signals an interesting change from previous epochs, an increased confidence on the state’s part that they have nothing to fear from artists, provocateurs, dissident propagandists, or protesters of any variety. But maybe my trust in the good faith of anybody’s discourse is misplaced. Maybe it’s all a swindle. This discourse included, obviously!

Yes, the idea that through dialogue we can achieve an improved understanding that will make for happier, better, more vividly lived lives. I quite lack all confidence that improvement is possible -- but I hope it may be so! And maybe -- and here’s the tricky part -- maybe this lack of confidence could inspire confidence in others, their confidence in my integrity. I’ll have to think about this.

It might be best to go on your nerve and let the chips fall as they may, and, like the poet said, they always do may. If they fall into your lap -- if you win your hand -- congratulations! But few people do. Economy of scarcity.

Though our economy, here in the U.S.A., is hardly an economy of scarcity -- it’s an economy of credit! Why we should be so creditable, I have no idea. Easy credit -- too easy credit -- has extended our economy of horded abundance beyond our ability to pay for it. It’s the hording that’s the problem, obviously, and I’m no different, looking out for number one. I can justify it: If I don’t take care of myself, nobody else will, and if I didn’t, whom could I possibly assist? Whom could I join with in transformation?

Getting beyond that fundamentally isolated state where one is compelled to consider one’s own interests first, leaving that behind and creating a new set of relationships, without aspiring to saintly asceticism, isn’t that the goal, isn’t that the vision?

Yes, but how to achieve it?

Who knows!

And who is who?

That’s the question -- and it’s not a question of naming, it’s not a question of identifying. It’s a question of identity. Who is who is not only the question, it’s also the statement, a tautological one. We’re all in this together. The bell may or may not toll for thee, but you’re probably no more than a few relationships separated from the person for whom it does toll. It’s a vast web, and along the web we exchange our anxieties and competitions. It doesn’t have to be that way; our exchanges could be made with a sense of mutuality, where we don’t press our advantage but find a way for mutual advantage. I don’t see a way out of the exchange, and I’m not even sure that leaving exchange behind would be desirable -- though, again, I could be wrong -- but transforming the nature of our exchanges seems fundamental. I hope we figure it out.

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