John is now back, has been since Saturday afternoon, and how voluptuously sleepy I've been since then, letting him make me things to eat and play with Genet while I nap. Maybe it has something to do with the North Carolina heat, which has settled to a humid nineties, and I've become one of those slow Southern people, who walk around barefoot aimlessly itching various pinkening bug bites all over my body, picking up books to read, dozing in strange positions. Genet and I are now sitting on the same chair on the porch. A fly is buzzing around my iced tea. His little chin rests on my laptop. We have taken to calling him Sontag because of the thick white mohawk that I had the dog groomer keep when he got his puppy cut last week. Yesterday we would look at him lazing around on his dogbed and we'd say suddenly: Notes on Camp. Or: What Are Your Thoughts On Photography? Probably only had-to-be-there-funny. Yesterday we got him an elk antler as a chew toy at the local pet store. Which made me of course feel like a horrific vegan, yes, I know, they are naturally foraged. I think of the deer family that graze in our yard. I watch their elegant musculature from the front window as I do dishes, or as I'm just standing there, barefoot, watching.
I've been thinking a lot about violence today, and the responsibility of a novelist. Does a novelist have a different responsibility than a poet, or a memoirist? I don't know. The cover story in yesterday's NYTBR on Dave Eggers' new book, hailing him as the new Norman Mailer, seems to think so. This idea of the Great American Novelist I've never really thought included me, or that I had anything to do with it. But I do wonder, whether the novelist has some sort of responsibility. Am I even that sort of novelist? On our walk this AM John and I talked about the Aurora, Colorado shooting, and Columbine, and the article in the Sunday magazine about the man incarcerated when he was a 14-year-old who suddenly, almost casually, decided to kill his parents in his sleep. Who has since then come into consciousness, from within the prison walls, who thinks back on that time with an almost detached surreality. For a long time I kept notes on a novel about a single-shooter, fascinated by Seung-Hui Cho, called Manifesto. I don't know if I'll ever write it, I am beginning to realize a lot of the books I want to write I probably never will, me being almost sportively lazy, I know that's an oxymoron.
But I thought about the novels of Elfriede Jelinek, her team of teenage misfits in Wonderful, Wonderful Times, one of my favorite novels of all time, a novel that is in many ways a post-war Austrian Clockwork Orange. And how Jelinek writes these novels that critique an overall culture of violence, and digs up the horror, everything in the collective repressed. And perhaps that's a role of a novelist, to vomit up the collective repressed unconscious of a given society.
This morning John and I watched outside of our kitchen window a young man, an older boy, on a bicycle, standing over what appeared to be a dead squirrel in the middle of our street. He seemed to be crying, and to be wiping his face with his sweaty white T-shirt. We stood there and tried to decipher the human hieroglyphics of such a scene. How could he be mourning over a dead squirrel? There have been more dead animals this week I've noticed on my walks with Genet, maybe animals in heat? careless drivers? Everytime I gasp and turn my head in horror, not wanting to see.
We watch the boy and he seemed to be moving the squirrel over to the side. The woman next door comes out and talks to him. She is wearing a pink Tshirt. She was one of the main people in the neighborhood organizing against the anti-gay-civil-union vote in North Carolina, going door to door, putting signs on all of our yards. She was hugging the boy. We realized perhaps the squirrel was still alive, and they were standing witness over it.
I remember then being in Vienna with John, the trip we took when we were leaving London, right before going back home and living with my father for months in the Chicago suburbs, watching Criterion movies from the local library and trying to read in the chilly airconditioning and sinked-in sofas. We had first gone to Prague but I found Prague so - boring, so touristy - our plan was to go to Berlin next, but instead we took an overnight train so we could be in Vienna just for the day, because my Jewish grandfather I never knew was Austrian, and we didn't have any tourbooks, because we couldn't afford it, so we just walked around the touristy parts of Vienna, craning our necks at all of the buildings like stone wedding cakes, and found the museum campus, where we would attend an exhibit of the erotic Egon Schiele paintings that then seeded itself into my imagination, the gaping cruel colors of the sculptural prostitutes. In the museum quad, a pigeon had just fallen from one of the buildings. And it struggled there, dying. John and I stood vigil over it, even tried to call an Austrian 911, to no success of course, and some people came and stood with us, a group of girls I remember, other people laughed at the stupid tourists who cared about a dying pigeon. We felt all of our ooziness and warmth go towards that pigeon.
But remember the pigeon in Vienna I said to John. And I feel like that's something that's needed more in our society, boys and men and people who stand in the street, bursting with empathy for dying squirrels.