The Ancient Book
Dreamed 1993/11/11 by Chris Wayan
I'm a schoolkid about ten years old, growing up centuries in the future. Yeah, for some reason they still have schools.
One day, our class goes on a field trip, a real, physical one I mean, out to a public monument. It's a crude concrete effigy of a hand-operated printing press, but too big--the size of a small truck.
A monument to freedom of the press? What a joke! There is none. It's not done by law, they just water down the textbooks and accidentally run out, they steer us away from hard news on the net, shut down the libraries, discourage reading, encourage TV watching, block distribution of underground literature, and generally create an apolitical social climate, in which non-televised information is cultish, rumors, bad taste, downright irresponsible to repeat. It's worse than late 20th-century America, and that was bland enough.
The sculptor stuck real books into the concrete in spots, for decoration. Under an overhang, between two much larger books, I spot a small red fat leathery one, not too visible... and also not exposed to the rain! It may actually be intact.
My wrist is so narrow, I can reach in. I touch it! The first real book I've ever touched.
Like Winston tasting real chocolate in archaic foil in "1984". A bookfile they deleted from the library after I read it, the first student to do so in thirty years. They explained to me I was getting behind on my socializing, by reading alone so much. Funny, I felt a lot clearer about other people's motives after reading that text. And watching my teachers freak!
A grinding sound, more felt through my fingers than heard. The book is loose! Over the years, the cheap cement of the glorious monument has cracked! I pull at the book secretly, watching our teacher. It comes loose in my hand. I open it and several of my friends and I stare... The cover, blurbs and intro make us expect it's what we've been taught the old presocialist books were: trashy, sexy, violent, but fun.
The text IS violent and sexy--and scathingly well written, funny, horrifying. And full of social and political criticism! Literature can talk about THESE things? We're all shocked--and permanently changed. We'll never be satisfied with baby food now.
A big arm twists the book out of my hands and looks at it. Our teacher acts pleased and excited, though she radiates nervousness and anger--and threat. She tells us "How wonderful. We've made an archeological find." Yes, WE certainly have, haven't we. With our big grownup fists.
The book is enshrined in a glass case, of course. Excerpts are printed up and read on TV and everything. Excerpts from the blurbs and introductory essays, a few snips of description--without the politics, the sharp critical eye, the freedom to say anything. They've censored it again.
Except in our memories. For that, they rely on the cold threat in our teacher's eye. We don't know what happens to bad kids who write what they see, think, and feel--but we know.
NOTES NEXT MORNING
My housemate Vito is reading Crazy Cock by Henry Miller. He says it's quite good. The two introductory essays, one by Erica Jong, call it a bad book--stilted, though historically interesting. I skim the first part and kind of like it! Flawed, yes, but more concise than his "breakthrough" style that even Jong prefers. It's weird--essays introducing a book that put it down! Never encountered that before.
Try to learn from it what MY style is, by noticing what I care about and don't. I like his vivid images, but they do feel like frills; I want to know what happens between him and June and Jean.
I think my path is to follow my interests, my subjects, straightforwardly--in dreams or out--without much concern for style. You need style if you lack content.
I have content. Weird content.
And even weirder discontent.
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