MORE EPIPHANiESby Richard Kostelanetz
The violin she played had the sound of a piano. Every award he lost prompted him to make something new; every award he received put his creativity to sleep. Peanuts, she felt, made her heart grow stronger. It was his practice to parlay prosperity out of perilous improprieties. He put malice into mockery. Founding companies that required her constant attention, she spurned the leisure her inheritance afforded her by buying herself into workaday slavery. There was, he decided, only one appropriate response to continual attack, and that was counter-attack. In his love for oranges was perhaps the origins of his acidic temper. Though his stories and poems are full of neologisms, diagrams, pictures and other unusual fictional devices, he favors conventional sentences in writing about his own experience, in part to stave off intrusive feelings of ontological incomprehension. Incorrigibly irascible, he would complain vociferously about the insufficiencies of every success. Though only a lowly employee, he had the air of a boss. His loving had the quality of curry—very good when it was excellent, and good when it wasn’t. Even his evasions were not devoid of effort. She receives thrice as much mail as her neighbors, but only half as many bills. For all his protestations of innocence, he behaved like someone who knew he was guilty. Someone is pissing on me. How can you stay married to a man who, every time you fondle him, says it tickles. Their love was not free and easy; it did not come without its costs and difficulties. She hoped that her farm-girl costume would make people forget her prep-school accent. If “number one” is urine and “number two” is feces, then sexual discharge, whether male or female, must be “number three.” With a pencil and eraser in hand, he could draw anything; with a pen, he could write only his name. He took the medals awarded him and furiously tossed them into the sea. She dyed her hair to look like fire frosted over. An invasion by an army of dwarfs completely demoralised the King’s militia. He dealt with seven bosses, none of whom appeared to have an iota more authority than any of the others. So hysterical was he about having “breathing space” that, as soon as he felt oppressed in a crowd, he would spin around, his arms swinging akimbo, and scream for the world to move out of his orbit. In his backyard is a gazebo in which he spends every afternoon staring vapidly at the sun. The recurring theme of his poetry is the eternal richness of art and the incorrigible vacuity of people. No matter how vigorously he flexed his penis on the nude beach, no one volunteered to make love to him. At thirty-three he was the oldest player on one team and the youngest member of another. He suddenly resigned his position at the publishing house “to write,” he declared, “a series of books” that all of his colleagues knew would surely be inconsequential. He played the piano with the irregular rhythm of a radiator expelling steam. His principal asset is a mimetic sense that allows him to imitate intelligence and thus compensate for its absence. We know that one night last week our commander met with the enemy in the municipal park and that the topic of their conversation was not the weather. I looked up from where I was lying and could see myself flying free. He played difficult pieces of contemporary music as though he had written them, so intimate was his knowledge and so sure was his touch. Peeking over the edge of the cliff, he became dizzy. She had a prickly personality; but as she became more and more successful at her art, collectors who had invested in her began to tell each other that her arrogance should now be considered “charm.” His ambition was less limited than his intelligence. How can I tell if I have been raped? Much as he wished to be loved, he succeeded only in getting everyone angry at him. His brilliance was so present it could be felt. Try as hard as I might to make these stories as different from each other as possible, a sensitive reader will no doubt find connections and repetitions that indicate not only limitations in my imagination but obsessions that may not be entirely conscious. The hair on his chest was curled into even waves. She insisted that education in her biology class would proceed more effectively if both students and teacher were nude. Devoted to her mother to her death, she succumbed a virgin. He lived a contented, productive life until he fell in love with a woman who was demanding, domineering and destructive. He would have closed the theater as a financial flop, had he not discovered at the last feasible moment that audiences could be enticed by the faint aroma of Chinese food. The French he spoke sounded like Dutch or German. Only when the streets of his city were rife with bullets and his telephone connections were cut did our mayor resign. He lied because his colleagues lied, he cheated because they cheated, and he stole because he could see everyone around him successfully getting away with theft. Some mysterious propellant appeared as exhaust from his backside as he zoomed across the countryside. For his entire life he collected and catalogued every hair that had ever been cut from his head. A map of my neighborhood was tattooed on his thigh to insure that he would not get lost. He claimed to have written scores of books commonly attributed to authors with other names. The elegy he wrote for his father turned out to be a hymn for his son. He rode to fame in the wake of a journalistic wave. He perused my library to discover divisions—categories of book-keeping—that were not previously apparent to me. Our love-letters had to be passed through barbed-wire fences. They sang in chorus, though not in unison. By continually switching her tense from past to present to future, she kept her readers unsure of her story’s location, not just in time but in space. The paradox of fiction writing is that on white pages black print extracts from black experience its ineradicable whiteness. Though she spoke no language other than her own, she knew enough about the structures of verbal communication to understand everything that was said to her. He could type faster than he could write and speak faster than he could think. In their competitive promiscuity they were middle-aged people playing college kids’ games. Though acorns were falling like hail around him, none had yet hit his head, and he prayed that none ever would. Conversations a hundred yards away he could hear clearly, while those a few inches away were often fuzzy; he described his condition as “far-hearèd.” For years I have wished my parents had written down what visions they had when I was conceived. The star of our office is she, for no one else can look so busy or shuffle papers so quickly. He spoke in short abrupt phrases that echoes his trumpet-playing. The illusion not only of depth but of equal focus to all distances are characteristics peculiar to holography which creates the illusion not only of depth but of equal focus… She kept the quintet’s rhythms less with her head, which remained steady, than with her tongue, which flopped up and down as she played the piano. As the night-time chill sets in and the hills change from green to darker shades or brown, we expected the enemy to attack. He wanted to write poetry with a syncopated rhythm. If I had the characters of Epiphanies address me by my proper name—the same name you can find at the beginning of this text—you’d be more likely to believe that my stories were one hundred percent authentic. She could breathe without making the slightest audible noise. He stared at his mother’s letter, with its news about his father’s death, and said to himself, hell, I’m too busy to bother with such sentimentality. Pledged to celibacy, he masturbated every Saturday night to visions of sugar plum fairies. She is rich, while he is poor; she is passionate, while he is desultory; she is considerate, while he is diffident; and she is wondering why she loves him. Her eyelashes suddenly fell off. The essence of style is, I think, invention—putting words in ways together as before done no one. My mother married her deceased husband’s uncle by his mother’s first marriage. From the beginnings of my literary consciousness, I was taught wisely to write solely for content, using sentences as clear as glass to convey a message so simple and plain, to be sure, that not in a million years could any one of a million readers have a smidgen of doubt about what it was that I intended to say. The height of his talent is also the apex of his limitations. The senior architect builds houses from the outside in, while his junior partner builds from the inside out. (The large woman had sexual designs upon every man she met on the street or in the office, no matter whether his response to her was enthusiastic or not.) To sweeten his remaining years, a lady admirer delivered both lunch and herself at one o-clock, punctually, every afternoon. Blessed with sufficient funds, as well as insufficient scruples, he purchased his escape from every arrest. He expected to go on living as he always had, ad nauseam. I awoke at dawn to find outside my window a view quite different from the one that was there when I went to sleep. He could by choice ejaculate either piss or semen or a mixture of the two. Stories are vehicles not for the conveyance of emotion from writer to reader but for the creation of images, situations and linguistic styles in the minds of both reader and writer. She slept with one man to take both compensation and revenge for the neglect of another. No matter how tightly I shut my eyes and fantasized about nude men, there was nothing I could do to keep the noonday sun from interrupting my sleep. There was nothing her mother could tell her about men that she did not already know. He filled his office with diplomas and certificates to instill in his patients a confidence that he could never inspire by his presence alone. He stood on the podium with his mouth ajar, saying nothing. In the surgical mirror I could see the mechanism of my uncovered brain—princely, palpitating and perpetual. Her breath always smelled of charcoal-broiled chicken, regardless of what she ate. My voice both sounded and felt disembodied. Sex was the last thing he wanted from her. Frightened by his capacity to overwork, he knew that if he did not lie for hours in his bathtub at least one day a week he would make mistakes on the remaining six. In the darkness I could hear someone calling a name that was mine—not just my first name but my last name and my middle name as well. She sneezed at the end of every sentence. He needed professional power, plenty of it, to compensate for his penchant for being offensive. She succeeds in writing prose so unusual that you’d think in reading it that English must be her second or third language. She took the counterfeit money and ran. Only with my eyes could I perceive that my legs must be numb. I spied on my mother watching my brother and sister make love to each other. His love of wit and irony made him an ineffective boss. We keep the new roof in the basement so it will not get ruined. I rowed for several hours without knowing where I was, where I had been, or where I was going. Show me a woman with two television sets, and I’ll show you a lady with a lover who prefers watching sports. The floor began to give way beneath me. If he is unable to find any source for the female voice he hears, she must exist, he reasoned, only between his ears. Eyeless, she fell into a ditch. Whenever he addresses superior officers, his left foot automatically taps out the rhythm of our national anthem. He packed all his belongings into a single box and carried it out into the night. One measure of true fictional art is the extent to which the author transforms material—language, setting, or character. May I be blessed with the grace to write at least a few sentences that will stick in readers’ minds. His legs were mottled by scars which, cutting in various directions, seemed to come from several accidents. I do not know for sure whether some of these Epiphanies were written by myself or by a namesake. My mother’s last words to me, as I go off to war, are, “Don’t forget to send back their ears.” When he died, the police found in his desk more money than someone with his menial job could have possibly earned in a lifetime. He ran his life like a business and made his wife a salaried employee. Her second language she spoke with the accent of her first language, her third language with accent of her second language, her fourth language with the accent of her third, her fifth with the accent of her fourth and her sixth, curiously, with no accent at all. It has never been easy for him to fall asleep with someone else in his bedroom. As she lectures me on my failings as a lover, she strokes the insides of her thighs. He purchased an entire ghost town with the expectation of renovating the abandoned buildings in order to sell the refurbished complex to a persecuted religious sect. This year my mother’s age is twice mine and her mother’s age twice hers. A metaphysician by taste, he studied microbiology to feel big and astronomy to feel small. Only someone as disgruntled with his parents as he had been would place himself up for adoption. My girlfriend grind herbs, in specific quantities, into a paste that I then spread over my scalp in order to speed up my brain. He dreamed he spent the night making love to a woman he was unable to find during the day. With ears that drooped to his shoulders, he could not fail to hear everything that people said about his peculiar appearance. He leaned forward, so far forward, in lecturing to us that he eventually fell over. She would become arrogant to compensate for loss, modest to apologize for victory, and sexy to mask her fears of frigidity. The same fashion conscious women who would have boasted of their promiscuity a decade ago are scrupulously modest today. He wrote poetry in his mother’s tongue and fiction in his father’s. A fighter as a child, a wrestler as a teenager, a boxer in college, he felt he could best the adult world by becoming a lawyer. Most of us thought she was exploiting the fame of her family’s surname, though in fact she actually wanted to change it to something else and would have done so before her twenty-first birthday, had her parents not objected so vehemently. He knew at the beginning that his father had given him only five years to make the business solvent, and now four of them had passed. He stopped adding to his library when he determined he had already accumulated every book he would ever want to read for the remainder of his life. As his body no longer cast a shadow, he knew that now it was time to go to bed. Experiences of acute embarrassment made a far greater impact on him than those of great joy. He did not dare leave his apartment without taking his tape recorder, his sunglasses, his sneakers, his switchblade knife and his pet pooch. Every time she looked in the mirror at her expanding waistline she wondered if all her boyfriends really liked her surplus weight. As a critic he continually proclaims “discoveries” that you and I and everyone else already knew. Paranoid by nature, she felt more comfortable if she rode on her horse backwards, letting him look ahead while she watched behind. Run, run, run. Whereas others wanted attractive bodies, he sought chemicals to cosmeticize his brain. Thanks to the formulas of distributional mathematics, calculated with the aid of a computer, the author of these Epiphanies was able to organize these stories in a maximally efficient order. By making construction workers in her novel female and manicurists male, she thought that reviewers might praise it for “enlarging our sense of human understanding.” Misfortune forced me to purchase sexual contact at exorbitant prices. Some Epiphanies are likely to be “better” and others “worse,” but who can tell for sure which were which? His writing block was so intractable that he thought about hiring someone to ghost-write his literary autobiography. You dream the story that cannot happen and invent the story that can. Her hide was so tough that no one could penetrate it. She had a taste for spicy sexual perversions. The only ordering system informing Epiphanies is the absence of any systematic order. His refusal either to trust a bank or to accept any large denomination bills forced him to rent a windowless room for his money. He wanted to be first in war, first in Peace and first in every queue. Whenever he felt anxious about her sexual carelessness, she took double doses of tranquilizers until the bad feeling went away. He hardly knew what it was that laid him low. Men she could reject, but from her horse she would never part. Everything in Epiphanies, even statements of my purposes, is scrupulously fictional. She expected low necklines to compensate for her ugliness. In his short slight body he combined several cultures and several professions; strangers expected to meet someone at least twice his size. More men give up sex for the priesthood than vice versa. Well over seven feet tall, he weighs at least four hundred pounds and smells like a garbage truck on a summer evening. Literature, unlike journalism, survives not by saying something new but by creating styles, perspectives and structures that stick indelibly in reader’s minds. If I write the word “circle” beside all squares and the word “square” beside all circles, perhaps you’ll think me a “profound artist.” Generally a reticent person, he would debate for hours the ethics of euthanasia. Every job she took she viewed as a stepping stone to subsequent unemployment. Ours is not only a fortunate people but a very commonsensical people, with vision high but with feet on the earth, with belief in themselves and a faith in God. A virgin at twenty, she was a snob at thirty and a spinster at forty. Superficially the epitome of disinterested disdain, he inadvertently provoked his enemies in subtle ways. No one else in our amateur acting company seemed so possessed by a concept of herself as, of course, our natural star. While at college he serviced two amicable women every single night. The tone of these Epiphanies is both light and dark, both optimistic and pessimistic, both grand and specific, both comic and tragic—in sum, let me say, as dialectical as life itself. I could never figure out why she had plucked her eyebrows down to a single scraggly line. My wife could write in three hours the kind of term paper that would take me weeks to do. Most of us experience the aging process as a kind of entropy, unless we get considerably wealthier, more famous or wiser. This peculiar climate makes the sick well and the well sick, the dry wet and the wet dry, the old young and the young old. I expected, when I entered the palace, that everyone there would be familiar with my name and my reputation. He wolfed down dog food, relishing its taste. He let all his pets sleep in their bedroom, rationalizing that they also needed the quietest room in their house. Angered by his negative review, I sat down to write this sentence and a thousand others. They are forcing me to take my final examination with a pen whose point is so flat that it makes marks only when held directly perpendicular. Hoping this finds you, I beg to remain. So conscious of money, she could see the hidden price tag on everything she saw. He feared getting ill abroad, less for what damage any disease might do to him than for the contact with strange doctors and even stranger hospitals. When they reached the top of the stairs, an invisible punch propelled them back to the bottom again. His penchant for parody exceeded his talent for fiction. Seventeen of my relatives are camped outside on my lawn, waiting for me to take them in. He aged ten years in three. Once he locked the door to the auditorium, he could harangue as for twenty-four hours about dieting. While others praised or blamed, he made it not just a point of principle but a practice of effort, to keep whooping cranes alive. The accent of her speech was so incongruously different from the character of her face that you laughed whenever she spoke. Symmetry, proportion, measure and impersonality are the principal virtues of both my writing and my music. She told stories inconsistently undulating curves of oscillating intensities. Run to work and walk to pleasure. His favorite whores he put on salary so that they would always be available only to him. She looked too old and too secure to have so many pimples on her face. Any woman returning from other planets will find huge audiences eager to hear her recollections, no matter how mundane. He awoke each morning with an insatiable craving for spicy sea food. Much as I love to swim, I never write about it; my fiction and poetry are not about my life. A person who has written memorable books does not feel forgotten in the world to come. He had no money and no power, but a great deal of influence. His art was so patently, so plausibly, so transparently serviceable as money, so golden was its quality and, behind it, his aesthetic touch. His enemies he approached standing in the saddle of a galloping horse, his pistol cocked. She advised us to regard her as “a man of letters.” More human energy is spent on masturbation than on sexual intercourse. He spun around on the balls of his feet, his eyes closed, fifteen revolutions a minute. Black telephones turned white once he spoke into them. His friends knew he would not divorce until he turned thirty-nine—no more, no less. After he killed the mouse, he put it into a plastic bag that lay on top of a pile of plastic bags that was now six feet high. I woke from a deep long sleep to find myself in the morning of the world. One had to scale a silver-spiked gate in order to enter the holy city. Earth, we know, was not initially discovered by worms. None of us dared quarrel with her persuasive diagnosis of our terminal illness. She would spend whole summer afternoons imagining possible ways to meet the boys she admired from afar. The only consumers not concerned about the escalating price of nuts were squirrels. None of the flirtatious tricks her mother taught her could deflect her teacher’s disdain. He took ever younger wives to father yet more children. On each birthday I fear that I have finally become too old for any man to fall in love with me. Behind his publicized façade of humane generosity lies the reality of insatiable greed. For every financial decision he had to make he summoned his dead father for advice. Most of the women I meet are eager to wrap themselves around my barrel chest, my bull neck and my bedspring biceps. The residue of his nightly fantasy life ended up in magazine stories. The various ways in which these stories can be interpreted illustrate my contention that one man’s bible can be another man’s newspaper. She dressed in clothes sheer enough to reveal the outlines of her body and yet opaque enough to mask the details. His intensity made some women fearful while others peeled their panties in anticipation. Never will the creation of Epiphanies come to an end. Her sexual career was so stagnant that she considered the possibility of sampling women. He slaved in the laboratory, night after night, day after day, every week of the year, jeopardizing his robust health, in order to produce an exact replica of himself. Only someone who had lived for years on a boat would remain so unaffected by the earthquake’s rumblings. He played only one song on the glockenspiel—our national anthem. One reason why Epiphanies is so choppy is that, during the course of writing it, I had an executive job by day and a janitorial job by night. He looked like an octogenarian who had been medically rejuvenated. The expenses of my art required me, first, to set a high price upon my prostitution and, second, to discourage bargain-hunters. He wrote not to win contracts or prizes but to create imaginative verbal structures that readers would never forget. On the same day that he married his ex-wife’s daughter by a later marriage, his ex-wife married his son from his first marriage. His prose was no less precise than a metric ruler. He had cut his gorgeous hair to buy a golden band for the elegant watch that she had sold to buy him a golden comb. Spicy food made him talk intimately, as though he were drunk. For the first time it occurred to me that perhaps I was no longer alive. He read widely and voraciously, on the assumption that all this literary experience would seep into his own writing. The house was so cold that only a full-blooded Eskimo could enjoy it. She thought she knew every seductive trick that men have every tried, and she was probably right. In arranging his bookshelf of contemporary literature he put side by side writers who would never seek each other’s company. Because she insisted upon riding his horse every morning, she stank of the stable throughout the day. Her enthusiasm for conversation varied with the weather—when it was sunny she was pleasant; but when it rained she was a drip. He dreamed himself Shakespeare and wrote me long love letters in perfect iambic pentameter. I was dismayed to discover that my head was no longer connected to my body. I wrote Epiphanies with the initial expectation that a fiction so eccentric would win for me a sure place in the history of literature. On the seventh day, the heat wave broke. Never before did she accuse me of sexual deficiencies. A straw would be my only tunnel to the air outside the tomb in which I had buried myself.
Individual entries on RICHARD KOSTELANETZs work in several fields appear in various editions of Readers Guide to Twentieth-Century Writers, Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature, Contemporary Poets, Contemporary Novelists, Postmodern Fiction, Websters Dictionary of American Writers, The HarperCollins Readers Encyclopedia of American Literature, Bakers Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Directory of American Scholars, Whos Who in America, Whos Who in the World, Whos Who in American Art, NNDB.com, Wikipedia.com, and Britannica.com, among other distinguished directories. Otherwise, he survives in New York, where he was born, unemployed and thus overworked.