The Nothing King: Special Cases
The Nothing King by Elle van Lieshout & Erik van Os, illustrations by Paula Gerritsen (Rotterdam: Front Street & Lemniscaat, 2004)
Special Cases: Natural Anomalies and Historical Monsters by Rosamond Purcell (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1997)
The Ego and Its Own by Max Stirner (NY: Boni & Liveright, 1921)
The Encyclopedia of Magic & Witchcraft: An Illustrated Historical Reference to Spiritual Worlds by Susan Greenwood (London: Hermes House, 2004)
"I have a rabbit, a pansy, and a balcony in the sun. How can you call that nothing?"
"Ha ha, he calls himself a king! But he has absolutely nothing; no queen, no palace, no servants, not even a royal carriage. He is a nothing king." "A nothing king!" "A nothing king!" Their taunting echoed off the walls.
What is a gift book—but this? Implies a history, suggests a future.
At present, you have to wonder.
A gift bibliolage queries a history, doubts a future.
Moons the past, eclipses the yet-to-come.
I like the way the dated futurism redoes the ersatz Victorian.
And the way the pretty poesy predicates flash gordon.
A mere bagatelle.
This one I knew for sure because of that title, The Nothing King.
This could be an alternative title for Ruined Books—the collections of nothing King.
Possessed by monstrosity, bedeviled by lusciousness, off my big rocker candy-ass mountain's majesty.
I guess I'm a special case.
In the thralls of my mind, whatever "thralls" means, I wonder why I start a sentence like that.
Why, oh why?
You will die before you die. If death is a kind of nothingness, then you will experience that nothingness just by aging as you matter less and less, and the more you try to be the more you will be perceived with the kind of horror inspired by an awakening corpse. You are the embodiment of what, in life, people most abhor about living, which is that vanishing is inevitable, and so you will disappear. Others will be glad you do.
No one wants to hear that, and yet every word you utter speaks it. This leaves you in a bind as an artist. To express yourself is to depress. You can never climb out of that dismal hole. It is a grave.
The word “dismal” came into English in the late Middle Ages as a term for the two unlucky days of each month, literally the evil days. Ancient mystics understood twenty-four days of the calendar to be cursed in the way of the biblical plagues on Egypt, and on those dark days no journey or difficult task should be undertaken.
You demonstrated—illustrated—performed the modern relevance of the dismal by coming to New Orleans, a city that was devastated on one such day by Katrina in 2005. You brought your cool dry works of art to this wet, hot location to share them in a festival with other artists. You asserted paper, in the form of books, in the face of water. And on the day you arrived, sure enough, the city flooded.
You should have cut your losses then, gone home to the oblivion from which you came, which at least had the illusion of existence. At home you cling to your life, and you make little things to prove to yourself how alive you are. Here you connect to hardly anyone, and many are visibly repelled. Everyone is younger, and they bounce with the exuberance of a California gymnast, Up with People, puppies in the window. You, in contrast, are just a drag. There is no you here except the problematic you, the one who poses a problem and will not dissolve. At home you are an artist, which all your old books, the worn-out ones, tell you is close to the definition of a good thing, though your students look askance and pick up their devices. You are breathing their air. But your claim to life gives you the unmistakeable advantages of a home well equipped with the signs you are loved and count for something, which is at least approximated or intimated by your making of art. In a sense, both practical and theoretical, as you fret here in a Louisiana swamp, you could be there and delighting in the Edenic climate of California.
But no, the dismal day is ahead when a tropical storm will be christened Barry, and its first ruin will be the festival. Because you do not live in the instantly informed world, and your phone is no more than an old flip, you hear about the cancellations only after everyone else seems to know. In the new schedule, you do not exist even as someone who barely exists. Your moments have been removed.
As a celebratory festival, it all comes down to one party on opening (and closing) night at a place nearly impossible to find, called Art Klub. In New Orleans, a crew becomes a krewe and creole reverts to krio. As a King you have the fantasy you might belong to the Klub, but you have no Klue. As if to confirm the veracity of the dismal you have announced to the organizers that you will read your work call The Nothing King.
But the organizer of the event, who is one of those who looks right through you (you can see in him the sense of panic that he too is dying before he dies), has not read your message and introduces you wrongly. So you take the microphone in the atmosphere of all-wrong and read this book as if the audience could be children and you a good-hearted librarian, but then you discover midway through the reading that you are delivering to them not your life but your death, your nothing king. It is ironic, and that is what irony is at its essence, a delivery that is instead a taking away. You are like the mythic cat that sucks the breath from these young people as they sleep. They look at you as into a nightmare, a void.
It’s oddly meaningful, in the way you enjoy. It’s dismally meaningful, in the way you cannot stand. So you sit. And stew.