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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Reading Michael Zell with bourbon whisky


Reading Michael Allen Zell with handmade bourbon whisky

Zell, Michael Allen. ERRATA. New Orleans: Lavender Ink, 2012.

Having cycled through twenty-two unidentified roads in THE KATRINA PAPERS, I can groove as Maker's Mark and I read ERRATA.  The book belongs to a typical 21st century species of post-something writing, a genre that is not a genre.  It is an event.

Between the opening sentence "As the monk, so the socialite" (15) and the final one "Flux stars fall into the internal laws of syntax" (110), a reader is invited to meander for 22 diary days with the cabbie Raymond Russell (the printed manifestation of Michael Zell's artistic consciousness) through streets --Esplanade, Franklin Avenue, Bienville, Bourbon, Rampart, Burgundy, Kerlerec, Dauphine, Barracks, Tulane, Broad, Canal, Frenchman and Chef Menteur Highway (a street when it wants to be). One effective device some writers from New Orleans use is the catalog of street names to distance themselves from the unworthy gawking of critics.  Bears mark territory with spoors.  New Orleans writers use the shibboleth of Tchoupitoulas.

ERRATA is a remarkable metafiction, a novel that engages literacy with a vengeance.  The book is not designed for readers who don't have more than a post-Katrina charter school education, or, for that matter, more than a run-of-the-football-field American education.  Who is equipped to appreciate Zell's references to Faubourg Marigny, Bruno Schulz, "early Phoenician and Hebrew alphabets" (24), Herman Melville, Josef Vachal, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Henry Mathews, Mallarme, Jorge Luis Borges, Felisberto Hernandez, Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, Heberto Padilla, Dostoevsky, Karl Marx, Robert Burton?  If you have not read The Anatomy of Melancholy, the humor of associating Robert Burton with "The Anatomy of the Distribution of Temperaments" (100) is as lost on you as the unique humor of associating  Richard Wright's Cross Damon with Raskolnikov.  You are obviously a reader who does not merit an urn burial.

It is clever of the persona/protagonist Raymond Russell to know as Michael Zell knows damned well that there is "no market for pastiche-strewn pages"  but a tantalizing market for hyperliterate meditations glued between covers.

Zell uses ERRATA to testify that "New Orleans is one of a few cities which attracts those with versatile lives, an unexpected stop along the way for at least a little while" (77).  Therein is a warning.  If you know what it means to miss New Orleans, you are most likely a victim of "the Raskolnikov who didn't swing an axe" (101), for you have purchased the hype that "civilians shouldn't be criminals" (100). Maker's Mark and I  deem ERRATA a fine meditation on why Caucasians flock to New Orleans like predatory fowl.  They need sanctuary from the Inferno.  And the book is a mediation of something else that Creole manners forbid one to give a name.  Some dimensions of words and being in the United States are to be experienced in the absolute solitude of reading ERRATA.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.            February 2, 2016

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