memorial & “tropical-iceland” – the fiery furnaces
For those whose ganglia were formed pre-TV, the mimetic deployment of pop-culture icons seems at best an annoying tic and at worst a dangerous vapidity that compromises fiction’s seriousness by dating it out of the Platonic Always, where it ought to reside.
In the fall, I read Bruce Wagner’s Memorial, which is full of passages like this:
After the make-out session in Griffith Park, Chess shared some memories of his dad. Laxmi enthusiastically echoed how The Jungle Book was a favorite of hers too, from girlhood. (She meant the version with John Cleese.) A few days later, she brought over a Netflix of the original Disney.
Memorial was a thicket of references, both high and low. Dutch theorist Rem Koolhaas, art-rockers the Fiery Furnaces, and David Wilson’s Center for Land Use Interpretation all got name-checked, but so did plenty of McDonald’s slogans, Oprah episodes, and Viagra side-effects. Reading it, I picked up on some, and missed a ton of others.
One’s experience of a book comes in two main parts: the actual real-time reading, and the long-tail memory of it. That is, although I remember Wagner’s methods, what really sticks with me when I think about the book are the peculiar emotional climaxes and plotlines that had nothing to do with the dressings. Though I was involuntarily disgusted by the abundant pop culture references, and didn’t really dig much about the book in general, my brain still filtered it down to the Platonic Always.
I think, maybe, we automatically look for this when we read. In fact, the idea that a given story has a broader meaning to people besides its characters is basically the unspoken contract we have when we begin to read a story. Regardless of pop culture references, then, we fit it into some world that makes sense for ourselves. You know, the imagination. It would take a critical density of allusions to derail that. But it still feels wrong to me.