Monday, February 6, 2012

I almost gave up on The Known World

Looking through old photos to illustrate this one. The jalapeño sausage bread from the Bourque's Superstore in Port Barre is best stand-in for the known world that I know of.

John Paul Keith, The Man That Time Forgot
The Decemberists, The King is Dead
Drivin' 'N' Cryin', Fly Me Courageous
Ryan Adams, Gold
Marshall Crenshaw, Marshall Crenshaw
Edward P. Jones, The Known World
Peep Show

I almost gave up on The Known World - it is a little like reading through molasses - until I got to the part right at the 50% mark where the slave Stamford, the one who "lives for the young stuff", has a hallucination during a lightning storm and the author suddenly pans out through time to explain what becomes of old Stamford and the the legacy of his legacies, and then zooms back into the rain and fire and, wow. The closest I've ever seen anyone come to this sort of architectural feat is the series of destiny vignettes punctuating Suskind's Perfume, but these in The Known World are thunderclap vivid and will once again push in the thumbtacks on the note on your wall that reads, "slavery really happened and not that long ago."


I got to leaf through some of my late friend Terry Kennedy's photos last night. Terry had a, let's say, metaphysical relation with photography. He was a master at it that didn't really show or complete a lot of his work. Life was process and discussion for Terry and I think, for him, a conclusion means you stop talking, and he never wanted to do that. Anyway, he had this whole series of the room with the electric chair at Angola prison that did the same thing as The Known World. I really wish Terry was still around for a lot of reasons, but at least so I could talk about that book with him. 

Terry's photo managed to remove the "Electric Chair!" sheen and leave the viewer in the chilling presence of "electric chair." reality, which is the greater chill. It trapped what the dull thud of being led into that room must be like, realizing you are just a man and that is just a chair and those are just straps and that electricity is the same electricity that powers a blender and that it's only going to take a minute. Zap and that's it and it's all it is.


Heavy, I know. You can counterbalance all this by dialing up the BBC series Peep Show on Netflix, one of the funniest shows I've seen ever. The Office meets Workaholics meets English self-deprecation meets the best aspects of a sitcom.  Also, John Paul Keith will make you believe in rock' n' roll again, should you be in dange of no longer doing so, and the new Decemberists = the old Drivin' 'N' Cryin' + impeccable diction.

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