This Is the Moment I Became Something Else: An Aesthetic Contrivance (a review of Artifice Literary Magazine)

by Anna Fonté

(photo courtesy axiepics at flickr.com/photos/axiepics)

Preface:  I volunteered to review Artifice, volume 3, one of those ϋbercool literary magazines for really smart, arty types.  I thought, what the hell, I don’t get out much and here’s a chance to try something new.  They’re looking for free publicity and I’m looking for new ways to write without getting paid, so it’s win-win. 

But then the magazine came in the mail: a slim blue volume with the name embossed on the cover and a laconic explanation:  “Artifice Magazine […] aims, by context and content, to showcase creative work aware of its own artifice.”  When was the last time I explored writing that meets that requirement, art that is crafty in both senses of the word? Probably the last time I did calculus.  But the statement drew me in; I wanted to see how self-conscious deception might be manifested on the page. 

But the more I read, the less I knew what to say. Here are some of the thoughts that flittered across my interior screen:  Oh, that is clever./It’s like a word puzzle without instructions./What the fuck is that supposed to mean?/Oh, man, I’m too old for this and it’s been waaaay too long since I read Derrida./ Did I ever read Descartes?  I don’t remember./Maybe I need to take a drug to understand. But which one should I take?/Reading this magazine feels a lot like being stoned feels a lot like being stupid./But wouldn’t it be foolish to try to make meaning out of stuff that seems consciously meaningless, stuff that taunts my bourgeois (I can’t believe I just used that word) desire for meaning?/Okay, now I get it.  Sort of./This is fun! /But if I try to write a serious review, then I am a crappy reviewer.  But if I respond incoherently, then I can still take myself seriously./What am I saying?/Maybe I won’t write it at all. What, are they going to sue me or something?/ Maybe I’ll write it but I won’t post it until they publish something of mine, tit for tat. [Insert Emperor Ming’s laughter from Flash Gordon.]/Maybe I could just take the parts I liked, the parts I underlined, and stick them together?  Then I could arrange them in an order that makes sense. /No, no, I can’t make sense, but at least it will be meaningful to me./What the hell.   

(photo courtesy S McGrath at flickr.com/photos/winggleam)

My thank-you note to the charming hostess in the enchantingly understated blue gown:

There I sat, cross-legged in my chair, hunkering down to yet another night with my laptop to keep me warm when I heard the sound of that soprano Norwegian keening.  You probably hired a DJ—or maybe they did it for free—but anyway, the thumping was pulmonary, climactic, and commanding.  It sucked me like a hungry lung.  It shook my walls. Really, it sounded like you guys were having a good time so I decided to come check it out.

It was a stroke of genius to gather in the old decaying library.  So post-structural, so apocalyptic.  The sign taped on the door said, “Watch your head.”  Or maybe it said, “Beware of ceilinglessness” or “You can leave your hat on.” I entered without knocking and discovered that it was a costume party—but of course, you know that already.  Most of the guys were wearing glasses, printed t shirts under unbuttoned plaid, and various permutations of facial hair. The women were more varied in their display: a sequined mask, a faux hawk, a floppy hat.  I must admit I was surprised to find an equal ratio of female-to-male guests.  What an attentive hostess you are! 

I was the stalker, the party-crasher, and the only one wearing a nightgown, so I snagged a Pabst Blue Ribbon off a passing tray and stood by the wall.  The ambiance was consummate: those one-legged tango dancers, the goldfish-swallower, and those scantily-clad bartenders who managed to keep their faces straight and their hands steady while their nether regions gyrated wildly to keep those LED hula-hoops from hitting the floor.  What skill!  Where did you find them? And what a fine idea it was to remove the ceiling and let the stars twinkle down upon us. 

If you told me I would one day find Barack Obama, Rod Blagojevech, Hugh Hefner, Harvey Pekar, Robert Goulet, Charlie Sheen (I’m sure I saw him at the bar), and the man that we call [      ] at the same party, that I’d see Proust chatting up Van damme, I would have slapped you hard for being so silly.  How delighted am I to know, my broad-minded hostess, that it was merely my lack of imagination that prevented such a conflation.    

I wanted to join the fun:  there were long lines waiting for a turn at tattooing the walls with graffiti, playing chess on the toilet, and especially long at the electro-shock machine attached to the bullhorn.  Every time the switch was flipped, the subject’s exclamations were broadcast for the entertainment of all:  One said, “This is how the baby bunny became Voltaire!” and another, “On the nightstand yesterday’s pockets spill their guts!”  “A closet is a funny thing!”  “The word fills me more than the kick to the groin!” “I used to be a model.  Now I’m an example!”  “This isn’t particularly fun or funny!” It was out of control!  They had us all in stitches. 

(photo courtesy undoneclothing at flickr.com/photos/undoneclothing)

And I yearned to enter the little booth to have my portrait taken on Santa’s lap but something held me back, I am ashamed to admit, some deficiency on my part, so I hung, tongue-tied, by the wall, hiding behind my beer, wishing I spoke Anglo-Saxon and binary, Morse, or mitochondrial code so I could join in on the conversation.  If only I could read lips and dreams and dwell in an ivory turret playing sticky cat’s cradle with spider webs.  Alas, so many great minds are cursed with tiny handwriting and microscopic voices, and no one passes into history without sound.

But your spectacle inspired me, my hostess, it really did.  My wallflower thoughts sprouted like fiddleheads from my brow.  I wondered at how the mediating influence of technology on communication amplifies, distills, manipulates, muffles, and replaces meaning (like how, by posting this on my blog, my story suddenly becomes an advertisement); how writing is no longer holy and books and words are just bits to be used as one would use scraps for a collage and how wonderfully freeing that might be; I decided that what one needs to be heard by the modern ear is a manufactured mania, a high-voltage edge and realized how exciting and seductive a (false) sense of crisis can be and how fear might be used to make money; how every story is a construct and how my dependence on objective meaning has made me boring and lazy.  My thoughts were like tickertape tic-ticking across my face:  Nonlinear is the latest hemline.  Ambiguity is sexy.  After all, James Mercer is the new Kevin Spacey; Kevin Spacey is the old Kevin Spacey.

My convoluted hostess, I must thank you for everything you did.  It was better than television, even better than plastic surgery, and left me feeling cool and smart and rejuvenated.  I skipped home and flung myself into bed, but not before proudly updating my status to announce to all: “This is the moment I became something else: an aesthetic contrivance.” 

I guess what I’m trying to say is, you have a new fan.  From now on, I will be the one staring at you through binoculars, on the treadmill to your left, or at the table next to you at the frozen yogurt shop, waiting for you to notice.

Warmest regards,

Anna Fonté (girl in the hat)

*

The Trouble With A Classisist by John Cale and Lou Reed:

Note:  Parts of this piece, even the title,  were taken word-for-word or altered from various pieces in the magazine and I may or may not have put them in quotations.   The author’s names are listed here in the order in which they appeared in the magazine:  Matt Bell, Lindsey Drager, Angela Woodward, Kristine Ong Muslim, David Blomenberg, Donora Hillard, Davis Schneiderman, Michael Czyzniejewski, Daniela Olszewska, Jason Bredle, Anne Cecelia Holmes & Lily Laedewig, Dustin M. Hoffman, Anne Shaw, Addam Jest, Joshua Ware, Brian Oliu, Kathleen Heideman, Michael Bible, Stephen Charles Lester, xTx, and Janey Smith. 

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About girl in the hat

aka Anna Fonté, writer of novels, short stories, personal essays, and bits about the neighborhood crows. The things I write want you to look at them.

8 comments

  1. kathleen

    brilliant, anna

  2. gail

    well, it all sounds like alot of fun. you’ve made good sense out of it. dont suppose they sell Artiface at the newsstand.

  3. Alice

    a closet is a funny thing! really funny! i have to hook myself up to one of those electro-whatevers and see what other funny things I can come up with. cause as it is I’m worried what will happen when I stop laughing. i’m not convinced i have a head, but i might have to go knock on your neighbor’s door and see if she’ll let me take a nap in her library. what with the stars. i might go do that anyway…

    • seriously. who knew that they didn’t put the rubber clamp in your mouth to protect your tongue, like they always claimed. they really stuff it in your mouth so they don’t have to think about what you say! but really, there was a piece in the magazine that recorded real exclamations from real shock-receivers. the piece merely listed what they said– partially as a way to imply that EST does not, as they claim, force people’s thoughts to comply, that no machine can do that.

  4. This made me very happy–thanks for the kind write-up.

  5. You are welcome, Brian! Your happiness makes me happy!

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