Murdered by Marina Abramović, Assaulted by Paul Auster: Dreamthoughts of Love, Death, and Performance Art
I’m standing on the corner of Jackson and St. Charles, waiting for a streetcar that’s running obnoxiously behind schedule. To pass the time, I allow my mind to float away. Like an unencumbered magpie, it lifts gently over the midair maze of streetcar cables, the bedazzling beadcovered branches, and the antebellum architecture. After a moment of aimless breezegliding, it settles in the branches of the reoccurring dream that I experienced again last night.
In this dream, my novel has been published and I’m reading at a bookstore, someplace classy like Garden District Book Shop or Longfellow Books in Portland, Maine. My dreamreading is going great; I mean, spectacular. My voice sounds strong and confident, and there’s not a hint of its normal nasally, kinda girlie quality. I’ve chosen a passage to read in which I don’t mispronounce every third word. (Lagniappes? How on earth would I ever know how to pronounce THAT?) I’ve also successfully managed to avoid the “sad flirting” that was so brutally depicted in a recent New Yorker cartoon. (December 9, Page 57: it’s worth looking up.) And most importantly, I haven’t shed a single tear. (Seriously, why am I so weepy in public?) In my dreamconsciousness, I’m looking forward to ending the event with a puff, vaporizing like a cloud of smoke, and rematerializing at a nearby bar that serves affordable absinthe or Irish coffee.
But outside the bookstore, Marina Abramović and Paul Auster are plotting my murder. Abramović is wielding the same gigantic bow and arrow that she used in her 1980 performance, “Rest Energy,” while Auster is carrying the same revolver that Blue and Black wrestle over in Ghosts. As they argue over who gets to inflect the first deathwound, a mysterious third murderer appears. (Yes, I’m aware that this scene is “magpied” from Macbeth; and yes, I find it worrisome that even my dreams are peppered with “scissor and paste” bits.) In last night’s dream, this third murderer was Peter Sellars; other dreamtimes it’s Peter Gelb, Julie Taymor, or even my old boss from New York City.
(As a novelist, I sketch from life. My novel is overstuffed with references to real people, places, and events, including Abramović’s 2010 mid-career retrospective at MoMA and Auster’s outrageous author photographs.)
Oblivious to the murderous plotting that’s taking place nearby, I conclude the Q & A session and ease into my seat at the booksigning table. After quickly realigning my spine and taking a deep breath, I begin fielding the normal inquires.
Questioner #1: Why did you write an entire section in French when you obviously don’t speak the language?
ME: Parce que j’aime that silly section.
Questioner #2: Why did you overstuff your narrative with so many historical/cultural references, thus making it impossible for a reader to “get” everything?
ME: Because I love Ulysses, but when it comes to knowing anything about Irish politics, The Odyssey, or Catholicism, I’m as dumb as Doran’s ass.
[A slight smirk stretches across my face, as I think to myself: “but you obviously know a ‘ting or two about lewd Irish ballads, you clever bastard!]
Questioner #3: Why did you use the N-word so much?
ME: [fidgeting awkwardly in my seat] C’mon, I only used it once or twice.
Questioner #3: You used it TWENTY-SIX TIMES!
ME: [grimacing] O you weren’t supposed to count.
As the line begins to dwindle, the murderous trio appears.
First Murderer: ‘Tis he.
Second Murderer: Stand to’t.
ME: It will be rain to-night.
First Murderer: Let it come down.
And with this, they set upon me.
From here, the dreamaction accelerates rapidly. I leap from the booksigning table and flee through the store’s shelving. (The dreambookstore has now transformed into a labyrinth akin to Powell’s or the Book Loft in Columbus, Ohio.) But my flight to safety is constantly impeded by my inability to stop browsing.
ME: Wow, that cover for Ben Marcus’s Leaving the Sea: Stories is gorgeous!
Banquo’s Ghost: O, treachery! Fly, good Scotteance.
[A few steps later.]
ME: Hey, I didn’t know there was a new edition of the complete poems of e. e. cummings!
Banquo’s Ghost: Fly, fly.
[A few more steps later.]
ME: I’ll just take a quick peek inside The Marriage Plot to snicker at Jeffrey Eugenides’s author photo for the five-millionth time.
Banquo’s Ghost: FLY!
Finally, I find myself trapped in an inescapable corner near a shelf of Chuck Palahniuk’s most recent novel: Doomed. In the face of Abramović’s fanny fortitude (she once sat in a chair for over seven hundred hours!) or the intensity of Auster’s “disdainful darkbroodingstare,” I don’t stand “an ass of a chance.” And although I realize that I’m about to be shot down and seep to sleep in the sediment, I smile at the knowledge that I’ll be meeting my annihilation with humorous quotes from my novel upon my lips.
Wait. meet my own annihilation? Sleep in the sediment?
I’m no sissyboy! My grandfather was a two-time Golden Glove winner from Gary, Indiana, who once brought up World Welterweight Champion Tony Zale on his undercard. (I added that bit about Zale just in case Joyce Carol Oates is reading this essay. You KNOW she’ll be impressed by that!)
In one final act of desperation, I reach behind me for something to defend myself with. After frantically skidding along the shelving, my fingers eventually encircle an old paperback copy of Horace’s Satires. (Are you fucking kidding me? Horace’s Satires? How about something with more infinite heft like Infinite Jest, Nox, or The Luminaries?)
With growing panic, I tear open the book and read a passage aloud: “what forbids us to tell the truth, laughing?”
My publisher was surprised to learn that I actually enjoy Marina Abramović’s work and was disappointed to have missed her show at MoMA. And just in case anyone doubts my sincerity: next time “Imponderabilia” is exhibited in a museum, I’ll volunteer for a naked doorway shift. (As for Auster, I don’t dislike his work; I’ve actually never read any of his books.) My fictional preoccupation with ridiculing performance act is purely functional: it drives the narrative towards the announcement that “love is performance art.” And for the love of Ulay, is this not the preeminent theme within Abramović’s entire body work? It’s all love, longing, endurance, and foolishness. Who would dare disagree with that? And who would dare disagree with the fact that no work of art (including author photos) is too great, too grave, too gravitas to avoid a tickle or two.
But of course, this defense doesn’t work. Nobody buys it. In the courtroom of cultural correctness, tickling is as indefensible as the use of the N-word. Sadly, c’est vrai.
As I spy a bellowing metal behemoth clanging around a distant corner, I’m reminded of how the dream ends. The instant before feeling the thrust of coldsteel enter my heart, I dreamshout “Ticklez l’infâme!” and awaken in a coldsweet in the blackest hour of the darknight.