1) How To Grow Up:
Trade your dragon for a horse.
Sure, it's easy to pretend it all makes sense, until you look through the eyes of some poor bloke who only wants to throw a little shindig for his friends. Next thing you know, there's some kind of spectacular fusing of the familiar, and suddenly, you're flummoxed. Who dares to disturb my slumber? Open up the costume trunk and the Grand Inquisitor emerges. Huzzah, huzzah, if you're still hoping it all won't get out of hand, look over there—it's Sleeping Beauty—no, it's the Pope—no, it's Napoleon, lit by the lamp's yellow glow. My gawd, everyone is so childish, bawdy, uptight, outrageous, weird and weirdly ordinary, and…so hairy. Why can't men keep their trousers on these days? Because because because. Life plus dream equals madness, but that's okay as long as you're having fun and you know when to duck. Has anyone seen Ros? Blink, and the paradox dissolves, buried memories are unearthed, unexpected insights are provoked, and on we stumble, trying to stay ahead of the game, trying to keep up, wondering how we got ourselves tangled up in this predicament in the first place. How can the victim be the killer and the facts be only surface scramblings? Where do we turn when the immersion into mystery promises no solution? And will the owner of those false eyelashes please come forward?
When in doubt, be candid. Says poor Gerald after the party has gotten out of hand: What--?!
Trade your horse for that dragon you forsook.
The goal, we recall from our last lesson, is to achieve clarity. Language is vast. Its vastness makes it unruly. Your role is to take this wild beast and domesticate it. You teach it to roll over and play dead. You master it through the strict application of grammatical rules.
Please turn with me now to "Love Scene," (Robert Coover, A Theological Position, New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., pp. 79-98). Note the simple declarative opening: "Lights come up on an empty stage." The predicate follows logically from the subject. The image is suited to the setting. The single adjective is neatly placed. The two prepositions fit snuggly together. The period is appropriately final. All in all it is a model sentence. It tells us what we need to know and no more.
That is the end of Lesson 32. Tomorrow—…yes?
Well, I suppose we have time for one question.
The rest of the play? Why, you should read the whole of it if only to see what happens when an accomplished grammarian lets the beast run wild. Go ahead, suffer through the reversals and contradictions, the questions undoing the statements, the rampant use of colloquialisms like "ugh," "Okay," "POWEE" or "Lemme." Lemme this, lemme that (and worse, the moral dirt, nay, sheer excrement, don't ask me to quote it). And those godforsaken parentheticals all over the place (for no other purpose, as far as I can tell, than to squeeze in an afterthought that would have been better left out). And the fragments, oh, the fragments! The point of a noun without a verb? "The sacred flame." "Secret trysts." Excuse me, but isn't there anything more to say? And what are we supposed to do with something of the caliber of "Hunh-unh"? Try running Hunh-unh past Spellcheck and see where it gets you. And the repetitions. "No, no, no, no, no!" says the voice. Tell me, please, why we need the same word repeated five times. A word as elemental as no, no less! As if there were members of the literate public who wouldn't understand what "no" means. And then, to rub it in our faces, he puts the fifth no in italics! Italics! As if emphasis were really needed at that point, the fifth repetition of the same word! And it's only down from there, down, down, down, down, down, all the way to "We want honied lies, the light fantastic, the stink of roses and flash of ornaments, hearts on fire, feet afloat, get it up now! Good times are comin'! MOVE!" I dare you to try translating this nonsense into English, see what it does to your capable brain! Metaphors mixed like steam blowing from a wizard's arse! The run-on sentences! THE SCREAMING USE OF UPPER CASE! And the exclamation points, oh boy oh boy oh boy, don't get me goin' on those!
Climb hand-over-hand over the shifting plates of his heavy tail, secure your seat atop the coil, and hold on tight.
•Vet your babysitters with reliable references.
•Avoid such dangers as stepmothers, blue fairies, uninhabited islands, Richard Nixon, penny arcades, birch rods, men with gold teeth and silver bullets, the Sotoportego de l'Uva in Venice, motels and hardware stores, etc., etc.
•If you are invisible but want to walk about the streets of a city and be seen, don't forget to wear your scarf.
Guess the tenor of the following quotes. Mark P for Praise, I for Insult.
"A potty-mouthed Svengali" ___
"Only Coover could have recycled this gory garbage into a fiction that goes too far" ___
"It is a work of the purest, unremitting malevolence" ___
"Agatha Christie on hallucinogens" ___
"Of all the postmodernist writers, Robert Coover is probably the…most malicious" ___
"He goes at his task with an almost alarming linguistic energy, a Burgessy splatter of vocabulary" ___
"I thought of an empty theater after dark wherein characters leapt out of a script left on stage and tried to carry on with their roles despite the absence of an audience" ___
Fall off a dragon. Don't try to stand right away. Just lie there for a moment. Groan, if you find it useful. Look up at the dragon hovering above you. If all goes well and the light is right, you will see your inner being in all its "wide-bellied grandeur…the wild, winged strangeness of it, the unspeakable enigma at the core."
unsettled, aching from belly laughs and worry when it's through. Any less and we wouldn't have proved our mettle as readers. But take heart! After the wild injustices are done with, after the end of the grotesque masquerades and tragic comedies, when the lawlessness has passed its peak and the perversity is over, along with the shoot-outs and spankings, the maulings, the executions, and the maddeningly frequent interruptus to coitus, you can be sure that there will be someone who survives. There is always someone who survives the insanity of this world, if only in order to tell about it later. He's a slippery character, wily and changeable, but you'll know him when you see him. He'll be the one in a dusty tuxedo, doffing his hat as you pass by.
Get up on your feet and climb back onto the dragon's tail. Fly away before the thundering hordes of murderous would-be heroes arrive on the scene amidst clashing steel and shooting stars. Ride off into the night.
Joanna Scott is the author of eight novels, including Follow Me, Liberation, Tourmaline, Make Believe, The Manikin, and Arrogance, and two collections of short fiction, Various Antidotes and Everybody Loves Somebody. She is the Roswell Smith Burrows Professor of English at the University of Rochester.