THE SERMON OF CARMEN DOG
Dreamed 1990/9/10 by Chris Wayan
I stumble on an article on Old English. As an example of how hybridized modern English is, the author strips the Latin words from one long sentence; it turns short and craggy--but still comprehensible. If anything, stronger! The Latin words were mostly padding.
Orwell was right. Churchill was right. But Lao-zi said it simplest: "More words count less."
That evening, I read CARMEN DOG by Carol Emshwiller. A strange fable in which the world changes so women slowly turn into animals and animals into women--at least some of them, sometimes. Men? Men are always men. Turn into animals? They'd never do anything so degrading! So they set out to fix their women and their pets--fix their forms, fix as in spay, fix as in... repair.
But one dog, Pooch, gets off the doormat, and sets out to sing at the Met. Her adventures are funny sexy feminist and extremely well-written. A fantasy novel that oddly parallels Thomas Disch's science fiction novel ON WINGS OF SONG, and Robertson Davies's mainstream novel A MIXTURE OF FRAILTIES--a nice way to compare the three genres! I highly recommend all three books.
My only problem with "Carmen Dog" is that Emshwiller describes ME so well when she describes Pooch and Chloe and the rest... but then attributes this sort of life exclusively to women. As if all men were cut off from animality, spirituality, feeling between. Some of us are pooches too.
My memory of the scene is fuzzy at first. I know I was in a cafe, listening to a girl chant poetry at an open mike. Then I realize I know her from the book I've been reading, CARMEN DOG. It's Pooch, the dog-girl who wants to sing at the Met. I recall thinking "she's as lovely as I thought from the book... and her poetry's not bad either! This is the kind of girl I want." And then her friend Chloe the cat takes a turn at the mike, and I have a new crush. Chloe's hot!
What happened next is painfully clear. I have to get up to take MY turn at the mike, before all these people, and find... I'm an animal person myself, and a recently evolved one.
My open-mike piece? Something like this:
"Words. Big words. Like... toys. POSSESSIONS! Too many? If many, careless! Few, appreciate! Build things, make possessions... pollute! Human no see... words pollute. How words pollute. But do. Too many. Too rich. Possess. You feel... less. Hey, rhyme!And I am. Touched. So touched I'm nearly crying at end. Feel the truth of it, as I try to tell it. Animal tears well up at the sadness of too many words, like too many cars. If I told it in rigid human grammar, I'd never feel it in my body like this.
Poetry, few words. Feel! Sing, few. Feel! Good prose, few, feel. Many... business, memo, government, numb! Pollution! Leather shoes. Dead animals! On your PAWS. Feet on ground! All four. Not numb. Words, paws... pause. Only connect! Touch you. I love, you love. Tell, show. Few words touch. Touching. I am. Touched."
AFTER I WOKE
I recognized this way of speaking. In CARMEN DOG, poor Isabel talks like this---as she devolves from a touchy woman into a scratchy, claw-happy, and finally murderous wolverine. A warning you can lose yourself in passion and anger as well as cold, glib analysis... A warning you can go too far. Balance is all. Grammar or not.
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