BooksWeekend

Thrivers in the Muck: Matias Viegener (Part One)

Author Matias Viegener
Author Matias Viegener

1.

Sometimes, it is hard to remember that Social Media came along years after the rise of the personal computer and the Internet, which Al Gore called the “Information Superhighway.” But like the highway in Jean-Luc Godard’s apocalyptic comedy, Weekend (1967), the internet is littered with refuse and ugliness of all kinds: overturned vehicles and violence.

The number of places on the internet hosting manifestos, mutterings, rants, complaints, confessions, conspiracy theories and declarations of undying love has proliferated so much in the past thirty-five years that no one can keep track of them all. And with this exponential breeding — like rabbits you might say — comes what some see as the inevitable decay and dilution of language, a further step in its entropic spiral.

The cataclysmic change that language is undergoing stems from universal access to what Marx called the means of production. More people than ever before can write down what they think, from foot fetishes to flower arranging, and post it online, knowing someone else will read it. One consequence of this is that the space between the writer and reader has gotten smaller, even as book sales continue to diminish. Are we entering the Post-Book age? To know how to spell or write a grammatically correct sentence is not required. Proofreading is a dying art. This makes a messy situation even more chaotic.

Some postings disappear while others don’t, and this has nothing to do with quality. The volatility of the situation drives many people crazy, some of whom are poets with tenured faculty positions. They feel the need to protect literature from further decay (or is it decadence?) I think of this group as the Guardians, the descendants of those who regarded the printing press as the work of Satan until commercial publishers began to print their slim volumes. The Guardians grieve over the loss of standards and publish their tears in peer-reviewed journals. But there are other poets and writers who flourish in this uncharted swamp, who want to hunker down and see what can be made of the goop we are all swimming in, whether we like it or not. These are the Witnesses, the thrivers in the muck. Matias Viegener belongs to this group.

2.
2500f2500 Random Things about Me Too (Los Angeles: Les Figues, 2012), which has an “Introduction” by Kevin Killian, is a collection of short autobiographical ruminations that Viegener posted on Facebook over a period of one hundred days. The book is divided into one hundred sections, each containing twenty-five statements, corresponding to the number of posts he made each day. According to his article, “How I Wrote A Book On Facebook” (Huffington Post, 9/25/2012):

I gave myself a couple of constraints right away: The list had to be composed that day, on the spot, usually as I was online on Facebook. My goal was to be random and never repeat myself, but I also decided that I’d never re-read an old list. At first I sat by my laptop and waited for things to pop up, but after two days I started keeping a piece of paper with me and making “random” notes. What if I came up with more than 25 things that day — did I have to dump the extras? That seemed pointless, so I started a little savings account of randomness.

Despite Viegener’s desire for randomness, certain preoccupations recur throughout: the death of his friend, Kathy Acker; the coming death of his dog, Peggy, who dies near the end of his 100 days; memories and fantasies having to do with sex; his childhood, which is laced with feelings of dislocation, all of which are haunted by an awareness of time passing, which is understandable given his daily routine of writing — performing and, in some sense, exposing himself — online.

The book is full of all kinds of tidbits, ranging from intimate memories to discreet gossip:

Adam slept over a few times, and once we went to the Zen Center in the Bronx with his father, Armand, a poet, who treated me very sweetly even though I was his seventeen-year old son’s legally adult boyfriend.

Elsewhere, he posts:

And last week, another friend who hates his success. Everyone watches you, he says, and waits for one misstep. All the ones who stood in the way now suck up to you, and all your old supporters can’t wait to see you stumble.

The list also includes all kinds of unclassifiable information:

There is another thing going around online where you find your porn name by combining the name of your first pet with the street you lived on as a kid, which makes my porn name Fluffy City.

And there are many instances of what Willem de Kooning referred to as “slippery glimpse[s].”

The teacher asked them what was going on. They just got up and walked away, their pants covered in mud.

3.
At one point, Viegener goes to Colombia and posts a number of entries about his trip, which lasts ten days (sections xxxix–xlix). In section lxxvii, he alternates posts about his aging dog Peggy and his friend Kathy Acker: “I’ve been visiting Kathy’s death.” In section xlv, he posts: “I remember seeing a stray dog rotting by the side of the road in Tijuana, while Kathy was dying in a hospital nearby.”

It seems to me that when Viegener was making his daily post, he wasn’t thinking about what he would write the next day or the day after — that the very form of the writing and its being made instantly public counteracted any ability to step outside of time and think about what to do in the next chapter. In this sense, his public ritual of diaristic short entries made it difficult to be self-reflective. At the same time, while 2500 Random Things about Me Too is comprised largely of surfaces, the veneer of impenetrability — something we associate with the work of Andy Warhol — isn’t to be found in Viegener’s posts, where he often writes about his doubts:

I am using the most obvious devices here: mixing genres or styles, for example pairing the sentimental with the obscene.

2500 Random Things about Me Too is a list that wanders all over the place, a collection of statements, phrases, contradictions, disclosures, one-word entries. At points, the author seems to be thinking out loud (or in print). He turns things over, changes his mind, makes assertions and hesitates. At other times he seems almost to be stammering. Every now and then, a narrative begins to emerge only to abruptly shift into a completely different direction. It is, one might say, a form of free association as long as we acknowledge no association is completely free.

The reader learns a lot about the author, but also, in some ways, nearly nothing, which is true of everyone: “I love movies that make me cry. I loved Beaches.” Viegener is artful about his artlessness and knows what he is up to, writing-wise. One entry reads: “It’s like a combination of John Cage and Joe Brainard, writing yourself out in bits and pieces.” He follows this entry with: “Both of them were gay too. Can a gay man’s life only be told in random fragments?”

He also writes these two consecutive entries:

The list is a bastard form, meant to compartmentalize the wildness of things.

The list is the instrumentalization of language.

I have only one small quibble with this marvelous book. I don’t think fragmentation is only true for gay men. It is a condition that we all experience, but which experimental writers are more likely to find ways to deal with, while conventional writers continue to think that their lives add up, finding solace in narrative.

2500 Random Things about Me Too is available from Les Figues Press.

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