Gary Percesepe

((The) Bride) Stripped (Bare) (By (Her) Bachelors)(,)

(Even) Church was sur­pris­ing­ly mean­ing­ful today. I’m Christian, to a point. But I’ve nev­er quite shak­en the insight of the­olo­gian Karl Barth that many peo­ple go to church to make their last stand against God (the hermeneu­tics of sus­pi­cion).

But today, after the Eucharist and the cru­ci­fix­ion read­ings, they stripped the altar. It was odd to see two lines of peo­ple, on each side of the church, car­ry­ing stuff off. They car­ried every­thing, includ­ing the great can­dle­sticks, the bible, the ban­ners, the pur­ple Lenten altar linens and cov­er­let, even the gold cross, off the table and out of the church. They stripped the altar. It made me think of the word ‘stripped.’ I decid­ed it was a good word, with a lit­er­ary appli­ca­tion.

I won­der if flash fic­tion is a con­scious strip­ping down to get our atten­tion, to econ­o­mize, to com­press time­less truths and sto­ries to just a few sym­bols of emp­ty­ing. If maybe flash, at its best, is a ges­ture that sig­ni­fies our des­per­a­tion. If it is a kind of prose poet­ry for an over­stim­u­lat­ed age, maybe a Lenten genre, an offer­ing up of what lit­tle we have. It has some of the ele­ments of sto­ry­telling with a neg­a­tive sign in front of the equa­tion, a cal­cu­lus of loss, a keno­sis of the heart. Less of me, please. Less of you. A hunger for less, a thirst for some­thing to move us, for a sense of tran­scen­dence that can hit us– bam!– in the time it takes to strip an altar.  Or a life. Of illu­sions. Flash as a spir­i­tu­al prac­tice of let­ting go of what nev­er need be said in the first place. An aware­ness, as in Flaubert, that human speech is “like a cracked caul­dron on which we knock our tunes for danc­ing-bears, when we wish to con­jure pity from the stars.”

*

If Kafka were alive I believe he would be writ­ing flash, along with his oth­er inscrutable writ­ings. I say this because even his let­ters, his scrib­bles, are flash­es of insight. Flash arrives! In the hands of its best prac­ti­tion­ers, peo­ple like Lydia Davis, or Kim Chinquee and Kathy Fish, writ­ers see a form slum­ber­ing in the mar­ble and chip away until every­thing non-essen­tial has van­ished from view. So much of the flash I see online is dreck, but this is true for every form of writ­ing. Perceptions of form are sub­jec­tive, as are all crit­i­cal judg­ments; Henry James thought Tolstoy’s War and Peace was a bag­gy mon­ster. We want to mea­sure our­selves as writ­ers by the best in class, and this issue of New World Writing show­cas­es some.

I have read Lydia Davis recent­ly, but not her flash. I read her trans­la­tions of Proust, the least flash-like writer one can imag­ine. Davis, I believe, writes flash because she wants to, and because she under­stands that the largest ges­tures are ground­ed in the small­est, where all the emo­tion is car­ried; she can go long because she has gone short. Everything today is under nego­ti­a­tion, includ­ing lit­er­ary forms. However weary, what­ev­er the menu options to exhaust us, it is a time of daz­zling dialec­tic. Flash is life in minia­ture, which can be so clar­i­fy­ing. Our lives are shrink­ing even as we are being pushed out of our com­fort­able spaces. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, we can only under­stand and desire com­mu­ni­ty when we have expe­ri­enced soli­tude; we come to under­stand our need for soli­tude when we have been too long in the pres­ence of oth­ers, the boom­ing buzzing con­fu­sion, and rec­og­nize the need to be alone– to strip down, to with­draw, to take an appoint­ment with one­self.

*

Tonight, safe at home, I recall Kafka’s con­ver­sa­tion with Max Brod.

–We are nihilis­tic thoughts, sui­ci­dal thoughts that come into God’s head, a bad day of his.
–Then is there no hope? Brod asks.
–Oh yes, Kafka says. Plenty of hope, an infi­nite amount of hope. But not for us.

In an era of over-con­sump­tion and over­stim­u­la­tion, with moron­ic scream­ing social media and plugged-in-tuned-out soul­less sub­urbs, with cities sold to high bid­ders, book­stores gone to Gap, record stores to park­ing lots, where the zeit­geist is best cap­tured by zom­bies (the walk­ing dead), and love in the twi­light of the age best exem­pli­fied by vam­pires (the undead), maybe flash is an attempt at tiny every­day awak­en­ings, wee epipha­nies for writ­ers and read­ers who don’t ask much but to feel some­thing, any­thing, again, who have shrunk their expec­ta­tions and have seen their last hope die, who have stripped their altars and await an Easter ris­ing which, for them, may nev­er come. The best of them– unpaid, un-agent­ed, unno­ticed, untenured, un-remarked– write on, try­ing might­i­ly not to envy, writ­ing not because they want to but because they need to. Some days, it is enough.

Gary Percesepe is an edi­tor at NWW.