Thursday, April 02, 2009

The End Of A Barry Malzberg Romance

A while back I wrote that when I was a young teenager my favorite writer was Barry Malzberg. This was just before I discovered Richard Brautigan.

However like Richard Brautigan Barry Malzberg has disappeared from pop culture. Many people reading this blog probably never have read anything by Malzberg.

So today I’m going to put up an excerpt from a Malzberg novel.

Wikipedia (currently) includes this observation about Malzberg: “Malzberg's writing style is distinctive, with frequently long, elaborate though carefully constructed sentences and under-use of commas. Most of his science fiction books are short, present-tense narratives concerned exclusively with the consciousness of a single obsessive character. ... Malzberg uses metafiction techniques to subject the heroic conventions and literary limitations of space opera to biting satire.”

Long paragraphs, metafiction and under-used commas. Yep. [laughs]

Vonnegut, Heller and many others tried to merge the serious with the absurd. But Malzberg’s style is unique. Extreme. He was very easy to parody yet all-but-impossible to emulate.

Malzberg had a knack for writing what seemed to be drama, seemed to be heavy-handed melodrama, seemed to be in fact pretentious New Wave posing. But Malzberg would include some little twist, some wildly unexpected element that somehow turned the weird darkness into something almost hilarious.

Today’s post is almost a complete chapter from the novel “Scop.” “Scop” is a novel set in the future, but it’s a future of gloom and bitterness where the entire culture of the United States never recovered from the Kennedy assassination, where everybody’s consciousness is completely defined by awareness of that event in Dallas. The novel is told from the point-of-view of a young man named ‘Scop.’ The chapter in today’s post, however, is told from the point-of-view of Scop’s young girl friend.

‘Scop,’ just in passing, is an allusion to the drug Scopolamine. Today Scopolamine is known simply as an anti-nausea medication. Decades ago Scopolamine was something like infamous as a ‘truth serum’ rumored to have been used by secret government agents in secret government mind control experiments.

I can’t imagine a novel like “Scop” getting published today. However a quarter century ago the publishing business and pop culture were both so different that back then I bought a copy of this novel off the best seller rack [!] of a bookstore in a small Wisconsin town. [sighs]

Here is a guy and girl just getting through the day [laughs] in a Barry Malzberg narrative where everyone’s awareness is defined by the Kennedy assassination (yet they can’t even get the basic details of that event correct!):

He was always fascinated with the assassination, however; I cannot deny the sincerity of his interest which appeared to be quite real and which was not based upon self-aggrandizement. “That’s when everything went wrong,” he said to me once or then again he might have said it several times, all our conversations seem to muddle together in the bowl of happenstance, the cup of memory, “that is when the entire social fabric seemed to come askew, don’t you see? If a figure of this importance, the paternalistic leader of the nation, the psychic underlay of the common consciousness could be murdered inexplicably—”

“Others had been murdered.”

“Yes,” he said, “yes I know what you’re saying but not in the era of modern technology. The techniques of diffusion, the communications which had been developed by that time made the tragedy personal and accessible and besides that there was the enormous power which the President wielded before the dispersion—”

“Oh Scop,” I said and turned from him, “this is so boring, can’t we talk about something else? Is this the only thing that you can talk about?” I was rather dull and frivolous in those days; it must be admitted that our relationship, such as it was, was based upon a mutual sexual attraction and my own boredom, little else. It took the Temporals to tell me that there were areas of far greater significance between us than I might have grasped. “I just can’t bear to hear any more of this,” I said, my back toward him, my little haunches drawn up, pointing toward him my resilient but capacious rectum in which occasionally he would bury himself with small moans and confessions beyond words, “so let’s talk about something else,” and felt his hands come around to encircle my breasts, “that’s better,” I said, “that’s better now,” I was a wanton little slut in those days, interested in immediate satisfactions, unaware as I was for a long time of how deep was his obsession, how serious his intent, “Oh, I like that so much better than all this dull talk about society,” and allowed myself to be swaddled in his embrace, taken to his center (or so I thought at the time, lecherous little bitch that I was) but eventually he released me and without turning away, his chin still clamped into my shoulder said, “There’s got to be something done about this.” I am impacting many discussions of course. He talked about it all the time during the course of our relationship but I am taking highlights, so to speak, from each of the discussions and stringing them together to give the impression of a coherent, rising point of action and view. This is under the advice of the Temporals who were good enough to suggest that if I wanted to keep a diary as a tension-outlet I approach my memories in precisely this way. They have had more experience with this than I have. They have had more experience than I have but they do not know what is going on either. “I’m going to have to straighten it out,” he said.

“Straighten what out?”

“Everything went crazy then. We’re the stillborn product of assassination out of despair. We’re a monster, a grotesque; the child that is our age is blind and horribly misshapen.”

“Can’t you stop talking about this Scop and just have fun?”

“No one can have fun. The Temporals will not permit it. They control everything; they have locked off alternatives not as they say for our protection but merely for our perpetuation. It’s got to be changed.”

“And how are you going to change it?”

“Well,” he said and paused, a long, thick pause which might have lasted some moments or days; there may have been yet another fuck dropped into it (on a level of superficiality we had a passionate relationship, it took the Masters to show me how false it was and how divorced from true feeling) or merely the desire for one but he finally said, “Obviously I’ll have to get back to the point of origin.”


“How?” he said, “by using the convertor of course.”

“Unauthorized time travel is illegal. You will be subject to severe penalty.”

“You really are a stupid little bitch you know,” he said, “if it weren’t for the fact that there was a raw, crude sexual attraction here I wouldn’t even have gotten involved with you.” He shifted on the bed, moved away from me. “Even so, I believe that I am going to get away from you. Right now.”

“Be sensible, Scop. You cannot change the past.”

“I don’t want to change the past. I want to change the present.”

“Even so. Even so—”

“I believe that I am going to get away from you,” he said, getting up from the bed, turning away from me, striding toward his clothing which he began to put on in a rough, absentminded fashion, the glowing insignia of his rank intimidating me as I lay naked on the bed, filled with the desire to get into my own clothing yet not willing to concede weakness. “I don’t have to put up with this nonsense. I really don’t have to put up with it any more.”

“All right,” I said. I must have realized then that our relationship was over. He was truly obsessed and when Scop fastens upon an idea he will not let it go, not for anything. “Do what you will.”

“I intend exactly that. Get dressed,” he said. “Get out of here, get out of my room. You disgust me.”

“You didn’t say that before.”

“I did not say a lot of things before. Get out now,” he said and lunged to pull me roughly from the sheets but I was too clever for him and had already gained my footing, stood beside the bed then and with real anger went for my own clothing, contorting my emotions into a loathing which I felt would help me survive the humiliation he had imposed upon me. There was no reason for this. There was no reason for him to have done this I thought and while he stood over me raging I drew on my clothes one by one and stood before him for an instant before leaving, I did not know what that look in his eyes meant, was unable to place it for some time but later on it came to me: it was the look that Osborn must have had before he set off the safety and looked down the long distance to the white car in the motorcade.

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