November 11, 2005

Novel Excerpt: Shrink-wrapped brains

Here’s another excerpt from my nebulous novel

One time I saw the most amazing thing outside of my crappy clerk bookstore job in the middle of winter: a pool of nicotine yellow water and cigarette butts had frozen overnight in the giant green ashtray out front; and stuck in the middle of the ice, perfect as a wooly mammoth in a glacier, was a shredded up love letter floating in space in a filthy ashtray.

That is goddamned immaculate, and it must mean something! I said, but nobody was listening. I went back into my mindless clerk job, and my boss made me shrink-wrap 100 books in a row. What killed me is that somebody had already shrink-wrapped these books, and I was supposed too shrink-wrap a promotional pointless and overpriced doodad on top of this already shrink-wrapped book!

After a few hours of inhaling burning plastic from the shrink-wrap machine, I decided that I would become the world’s first Shrink Wrap Artist. My art would criticize our over-consuming culture, the way that corporations figured out how to dumb down every single part of job until an interchangeable set of minimum wage earning kids like me can make the product. Then we shrink-wrap these crappy products and people buy them because they are covered in a shiny layer of plastic.

As a shrink-wrap artist, I would wrap family photos, love letters, pornographic magazines, small cars, fur coats, broke radios, and obsolete video game cartridges in plastic and pile them to the ceiling in art museums. I would out-Warhol Andy Warhol when the art-world starts paying millions for my sculptures, I’ll buy the most expensive Andy Warhol painting I can find and shrink wrap that and slap a barcode on top and sell it as my work for double the money I paid in the first place.

I just wish I could preserve what I write as perfectly as that love letter frozen in the ashtray, arranging my stories like prehistoric butterflies preserved in million-year-old amber, I want to shrink wrap all the good things I felt and dreamed here, I could spend the rest of my life poking the crinkly layers of plastic, looking for me inside there, and I’ll ask me: what are you doing? Where are you going? What do you want? I don’t know, I don’t know.

I just read this fantastic story by Sam Anderson in Slate, he's writing about Sarah Silverman and the abuse of over-the-top, knee jerk irony in art and every time I think about it, I think about that shrink-wrap story, there's something else that writers are supposed to be doing beyond this tired irony, maybe Sarah Silverman is the answer, maybe it's something else, but just read what Sam Anderson says:

"Silverman is a prototypical ironist—someone who says things she doesn't mean and (through more-or-less subtle contextual winks) expects us to intuit an unstated, smarter message underneath. But what is that message? Does she, like Socrates, play dumb in order to make us smart? Or just to experience the cheap thrill of public racism? Every ironic statement should, in theory, be translatable out of the joke world and into the world of civic-minded sincerity (the classic example: Swift's "eat Irish babies" equals "stop oppressing my country"). But Silverman's ultimate point is hard to find, partly because it's hidden behind such a blank expression. This may be one reason why such a consistently funny voice has had such a peripheral career."

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