Jesse Jarnow

memorial & “tropical-iceland” – the fiery furnaces

“Tropical-Iceland” – The Fiery Furnaces (download here)
from EP (2005)
released by Rough Trade (buy)

Jonathan Lethem’s Harper’s essay on “The Ecstasy of Influence” has been on my to-read list, but this quote, pulled by Return of the Reluctant, caught me eye:

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.

1 Comment

  1. fairest says: - reply

    I feel the same way about Brett Easton Ellis’ *Glamorama* which I read a few months ago and can’t stop thinking about. There are Whithmanesque lists of forgotten celebrities from the 90s, but what will stick in my Platonic Always is how awesome the sex scenes were.