From “The Dreaming Jaw, The Salivating Ear,” by Jonathan Lethem
From “The Dreaming Jaw, The Salivating Ear,” in the October 2009 Harper’s Magazine.
I do not think I shall visit my blog anymore. It is not so much the smell that discourages me—gulls have skeletonized the corpse in the entranceway, and the lapping tide has salt-rinsed the floorboards where the intruder’s blood was once caked as thick as fruit-leather—as it is a certain malodor of memory persisting there. The stink of my disappointment being that stink which the sea’s salt can never rinse.
I study my blog through binoculars from the distance of the boardwalk, but never approach. Gulls wheel over my blog’s entranceway, vultures at my kill, much as they do above the splintery planks of the boardwalk, scavenging the greasy paper sleeves containing, if gull should be lucky, some remaining tidbits of cakey frankfurter bun, the last dark rejected french fry like a withered witch’s finger. Let anyone imagine I gaze at the horizon. It is a kind of horizon at which I gaze, an inner-made-outer vanishing point, a place where feeling ventures out to make a meeting with language and finds itself savaged.
I will not forgive The Whom. He would not forgive me.
From the Web
The unseen pillars of Korean society are its ajummas. “Ajumma”— literally “aunt”— is one of those wonderfully untranslatable Korean words— more colorful than “hausfrau,” less derogatory than “fishwife,” and probably not too far from “yenta.” In South Korea, “ajumma” is an inglorious term most associate with gargantuan red sun visors, bright lipstick, baggy clothing, and an oblivious, pushy determination that draws the scorn and admiration of anyone who has ever been in an ajumma’s way. My Korean wife has called “ajumma” The Third Gender. In “A Nation of Sheep,” Eugene Lederer observed ajummas fleeing south over the snow and ice in flimsy slippers, with all their valuables on their backs, and concluded that they had “no nerve endings.” I met one ajumma on Cheju Island who made her living by rising before the sun and carrying 40 pounds of snacks and drinks 180 feet up the side of this crater to sell to exhausted climbers a third her age (the woman was in her 70’s, so technically, she was really a halmoni). There is steel under those garish colors, for the ajumma is also legendary for her determination to pay any price or bear any burden for her family. Today, South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo reports that North Korean ajummas are leading the popular resistance to Kim Jong Il’s Great Confiscation, a canceling and reissue of the national currency that wiped out the savings of millions of families and threatens to plunge North Korea back into famine just as winter begins. Then, North Koreas died passively by the millions…. this time, the ajummas are fighting the suppression of their survival strategy. —North Korea’s Ajumma Rebellion,” Joshua Stanton, The New Ledger
Q. Even when not dealing directly with politics, your novels exist in an atmosphere of political threat. Over time the threat has shifted from Soviet Cold War to the axis of evil, but always with a sense of potential Armageddon.
A. I was very apolitical as a young man. I was left of center, but being surrounded by Trotskyites like Christopher Hitchens made me seem moderate in comparison. I was unattractively proud of not knowing a great deal about politics. Literature was what I had and it was my thing. Despite writing about nuclear weapons in Einstein’s Monsters and the Holocaust in Time’s Arrow, I only really gave myself a political education when I began to study Russia. Suddenly I could see the categories and the precedents. It all came alive to me. When September 11 came along, I wasn’t prepared for anything as interesting as that to happen in my lifetime. If I had to explain what my novels were about in one word it would be masculinity, and here was masculinity in a whole new form. It takes the essence of what it is to be a man straight back to violence, and really the political history of man is the history of violence. The social history of man is simply sex. Those have always been the most interesting questions to me: What is it that makes man put himself about in such a way and what is it that makes him treat women in the way he does? When I have chosen to speak out about topics in nonfictional form it is with these concerns in mind. —“Martin Amis,” James Knight, Vice
Hogwash, all media-related: celebrities in peril, or is blackmail on the up and up?; conservative journalists making fun of liberal journalists for acting like conservative journalists: (“When deliberately slanting stories in support of liberal causes, always cover your tracks by quoting the other side. Example: “President Obama wants universal health care, whereas Rush Limbaugh, the big fat drug addict, contends it is a bad idea.”); lame men’s magazine claims lack of creativity is part of “overall branding strategy” (although who knows, that might be true)
Here among high scrub, south of Arivaca, Arizona, sunlight glances off discarded water bottles, candy wrappers, tennis shoes, rosaries, and a tiny picture of the Virgen de Guadalupe in yellowing cracked plastic. Such things are hastily abandoned in the headlong passage between life and death, the fate of their owners unknown. Officially, migrant deaths here each year number in the hundreds. Humanitarians who hike this country call those numbers bullshit. They say the desert is haunted by thousands of unfound dead people. Out here, a corpse gets about two weeks, tops. By then, sun and scavengers have sealed the deal. A handful of rescue volunteers have come across bodies, but everyone has seen the bones. And in a place where mortality crunches underfoot, folks can get a bit touchy. Take the feds and the humanitarian outfits. They’ve never shared much in the way of mutual admiration. Sure, everyone pledges bonhomie—each appreciates the other’s “tough job” or “dedication” or “good intentions.” But those are just words muttered to reporters. As it happens, the thing that keeps them at odds also binds them together: death all around. Death behind that shrub or in that wash, or settled in the shade of that half-buried boulder. —Death Watch in the Desert,” Tim Vanderpool, Tuscon Weekly