Read an extract from the writer's highly anticipated book that brings print artefacts back to the future
As part of our new summer US project States of Independence we've invited our favourite 30 American curators, magazines, creatives and institutions to takeover Dazed for a day.
Staging a mid-week takeover is prolific genre-bender David Shields – the author of both non-fiction and fiction whose literary collaging constantly eludes classification. We've pinned him down for an exclusive manifesto, as well as curated content from those authors and poets who he believes are breaking all the right rules.
Bored by the slick disposability of ebooks and deletable pdfs, I've spent the last seven years interfacing with the print artifact, an old but surprisingly durable technology, haunting libraries of various sorts, writing essays in response to things I found there (a bookplate, a forgotten sentence, a human hair, a found text, homophobic marginalia, an overheard conversation), printing them, and publishing them back into the books/libraries where they originated as letters to a future lover. In 2015 Graywolf Press will publish the collected letters as Letter to a Future Lover.
David Shields: “I love Ander’s recent book Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir, which demolishes the memoir notion of identity in order to recompose the notion of identity as a holding tank for cultural confusion and energy and excitement.”
COUNTRY MUSIC DEATH NOTICES, 1979-1980
Wayne Walker, member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, noted for such compositions as “Burning Memories,” “Are You Sincere?,” and “Cajun Queen,” January 2, 1979
Floyd Franklin Reed, Missouri old-time fiddler, February 1, 1979
Rodney and Will Balfa, members of the Balfa Brothers, Cajun musicians, February 8, 1978
Charles Seeger, Dean of American ethnomusicologists, the father of Pete, Peggy, and Mike, February 7, 1979
— The Journal of Country Music 8.3, 1981 (University of Arizona Library, Fine Arts)
I can’t write you in a book without talking about death, since each book is a little death, and good country is nothing if not mourning. Any writer will tell you this: that publication is a separation, train leaving the station. It might indeed return, but it will not be the same. There’s a psychological term for this that I forget: how any bodily fluid, once it’s left the body, becomes alien, other, repellent. For instance: spit in a cup. Now drink it back up. Few of us will. Why not? It was in your mouth a moment ago. Isn’t it yours? Isn’t it you? It’s easy to see our flaws in others, as we know. Less easy — and often painful, so we resist it — to appraise the self.
A book trains us for our end: each attenuates, you can feel the weight of its diminishing pages as you flip, and there’s that final turn; at last its last is in view with only blankness after, like reaching a coast. It’s bittersweet at best, reader, when one you’ve loved for long ends like this. Of course the sentences continue in your memory: how lines from Arthur C. Clarke or Beverly Cleary return to mind a decade later or longer. How we channel what we read – how we are channeled by it. How reading is experience, which every reader knows (though recent studies have finally proved this fact), and when we are confronted with a library full of these possible lives, we are awed by how much we do not know about the world. We cannot contain even a fraction of this information. We step away to clear our heads. We’re not dead, yet, not today.
“Any writer will tell you this: that publication is a separation, train leaving the station. It might indeed return, but it will not be the same.” – Ander Monson
Until its recent renovation, Kansas State University’s main library stacks were not air-conditioned, and sported signs that warned people with heart conditions to enter at their own risk in summer. So we will read in the face of danger – and that we can contain what we do read, if only for a moment, before it is/we are released. That we die is what gives our being meaning. Going through a loved one’s books after they have passed, we might find their mind alive again in marginalia.
Knowing we can’t have everything: what kind of life is this? How can we continue to exist? Except we do. And then we’re through, and hopefully someone will mourn your loss, or maybe not, I don’t know what kind of life you’ve lived, how much you read, how well you read, or if you read, if you were read, or who you touched and for how long and how and when and why and what it meant.
“I don’t know what kind of life you’ve lived, how much you read, how well you read, or if you read, if you were read, or who you touched and for how long and how and when and why and what it meant.” – Ander Monson
If you’re lucky you might be listed in a place like this, back of The Journal of Country Music, chronologically by date of death, with why you mattered, briefly, summed up in a sentence. (I almost wrote summer up, but did not, and now I did and didn’t, honoring my errors: consider the ways the brain might (mis-) direct our energies, switch tracks without us noticing; perhaps these are the hidden intentions of the sentence we are always working on until we stop and see where we ended up.) So: Warren Smith, “rockabilly innovator who switched to honky-tonk,” Ralph Sloan, simply a “clog dancer,” Cousin Emmy (Cynthia May Carver), “the quintessential ‘banjo-pickin’ gal,’” James Price, “veteran bus driver for Ernest Tubb and Bill Anderson,” and this strange list goes on. I don’t know their names until I do. Life too goes on. Some clichés are true. There’s not much between me and you besides this sentence, a paper card, this intake of breath. We too go on until we don’t. I know so little of this world.
What do you know? I wonder. Why did or do you matter? What have you left of yourself behind?