His Dead Ends
James Tierney

These late short texts expand outward over everything. As the size of the container is reduced the pressure builds and when it is broken open by the reader's mind its scope is that much broader.

To burst from inside, language, under its own pressure, his so sanguine hope. Why?

 The "why" lingers somewhere between succumbing to apathy and genuine intellectual curiosity-the tone, even at this point, after many years, and many words, remains utterly unresolved. Throughout the texts there is the sigh of indolence coupled to the sigh of exhaustion from so much industry-the fantasy, by the laborer, of the absence of work, or of absolute exhaustion, which are each his death.

Polarize no hidden meanings. Will pulverize the end, no matter what. To see it as the day blames evening, a resource if nothing else, possibly a miracle. Because they do break down.


 The prose fails time and again, as if to keep the spiritual honest, holy ghostless, to temper the spirit of a torrent of pure words, of a rapture through serial reason. The gyroscope of his personality bringing the writing always back to the same true center. His Hotel 77, a place that couldn't be said not to have style, in every respect seems however to be failing, as if in tone alone. He calls it calm.

It was all a little like Dekooning with Alzheimer's, painting happily away to produce an industrious absence... It was calm... More than passion, more even than joy, a sort of positive denial focusing on what isn't there.

The recurring dampening feels like a dead end, in the gut it feels like that, his is not euphoric writing, it's not even happy, but it smiles. At dead ends one is done, turns around and goes home. He does rather what many a lost child has done, he walks in twilight, dinnerless, beyond the reflective signage and barricade into the woods through what is, to him at least, a new world. The joys are ecstatic inward joys, of the religious sort, but without a Faith, the joys of discovery which come at the cost of being at the same time lost, as in the unsteady highs of the manic. "When do I go home? Never." It can amount to, in the self-analysis of a congenitally stubborn searcher, one breached dead-end after another.

Chronic. The only thing he can think of is to give in to it, as one does with time. This does not make him happy, but the alternative is something he does not like to think of. In fact, the last thing he needs is reflection.

In time, what provides stability, is the anticipation of the impasse, the characteristic stillness of the air that tells him once again that he is on that road. This air is his trail marker, his way forward, moment to moment his reassurance, his equanimity, and the low bass line of his march.

The good to have to express the ambiguities.


 It starts this way, but what does it become?


He slips in and out of modes of resistance, fluctuating in series with whatever indignation he's still able to muster, at this point faced not only with illness but death and, in the context of putting these words together, the very end of some fifty or so years of a life putting words together toward a rather indistinct, if not ambivalent, ambition.

...one word leads to another and soon the mood turns bitter. Soon they aren't speaking.

 Where every sentence counts, and every choice has its consequences, the mood is going to turn. The romance at some point, or the desire for the romance, dies: "obscurity, relative poverty, cult status," achieved. What's left is the brutal white pagedness of writing for its own sake, unattended by the accessories that more clearly, tangibly, define it as a relative force, if not always in the world at large, then in the daily satisfactions of his own world.


He is a writer of provisional, abandoned fantasies: fantasies both of what might happen, the ways in which he might be cured, and of many things, but chiefly fantasies of what has already happened, not regrets or rearrangements or even flourishes, but fantasies of the facts of the episodes he has lived through-fantasies of having been present to these facts in the moment in just the same reconsidered way his memory presents them now-

That's what he's come to Paris for. The city had that quality of dreaminess that he's after. It's open to any amalgamation of desire and fact. What he hopes for is a gradual leakage of desire in favor of fact. Till desire is exhausted and ready to be relinquished.

He's not talking about the present, and it's sobriety he favors now, he's here to kill some last thing. The prose is always coming down, the tone is forever being reined in in the service of nailing the fact that will show desire for the empty hand that it is, was, will be-not possession, possession was real, but desire, desire never happened.


Equating the near death experience of a violent vehicular negligent homicidal death to the utterly inward, comical, "groping for a style at the organ." One seems to have happened, one clearly didn't. Those are the facts, one a mode of desire, the death wish, the negligence wish, languid, lurid slumpings into the warm side of weakness. And one cold, solitary, awkward effort in hand.

Going on, he evokes the odious conversation of the what might have been, the question of alternative lives, another mode of desire, all of these cavings in, this one a patently empty question. One either treats it in a manner so light that it is of no genuine interest, or then it's left to treat it as a serious question. It's a question that requires who aims to look at it in all earnestness to first relinquish any claim to an earnest present existence, and to a way forward, to any groping whatever. It follows the proper time for this idyll would maybe be when one is assured that there is no longer, for himself, or herself, any way forward. Proper if one's only concern is one's own way forward. He treats the alternative fantasies with the proper impropriety, demonstrating the comic tragedy of them, of what life is, what love is, whichever way one goes it, and whichever he she is: "Nothing will turn out as foreseen." This after all is his final wan expression of hope-an affirmation of the nothing fact of the future coupled to the damnation of the misplaced desire implicit in the tense of the verb. Desire belongs only in the present.


A running commentary on itself, each paragraph departs from its predecessor-his mind, as a writer, or his whole self as a writing mind, completely isolated in the moment, in the place, without voice, locomotion, companion, needs, input, only the sound of the cursor moving across the screen. The materials all at hand, and all reflexive, in both senses of the word, the narrative generated moment to moment, contained at all points entirely in the one mind.


It goes out that the narrologists of that eternally recurring post-post-war era are perhaps too inward to be of use? interest? value? The criterion for dismissal is always vague because it is there that the indictment indicts itself. And the cry, it's telling, is always shrill. The question it raises to a conscientious participatee is, where is the threat?

This whole exercise releases a lot of pressure to show what everything means, if you believe that. That's why they get so angry.

It's those who, converse to his formulation, hope for the gradual leakage of fact in favor of desire who perhaps holler out most alarmingly. If only to muffle this, the prose must fail, the tone must flag.


He seems to get down to some hard last things: do we miss the children? Drops it, more or less, with a guilty unresponsiveness, in favor of what really captures his mind at the end, chance vs. nonsense, not the children.


Death by the swatting, brushing, ambivalent hand of chance cannot be nonsense, he puts forth. And he seems at some point to be saying, but maybe it is simply by chance, that only by eliminating chance, through the determinant act of deliberate choice, can the disorder of chance be deliberately generated, and thereby that it would, no doubt, "warp the meaningful"-un coup de des jamais...-and not end in nonsense. 


He goes so far as to give us a sample of the syntax of his nonsense, and all the places it will not take him, the insipid insult it throws at his memory:

Nonsense will be dumber than he remembered: overflow over four days over four days I see and the what celebrates the saliva Israelis to see a can produce it is a good entree to drama's secretions that you have described from you take care of his right showed the Navy dry makes the choke the mind is another thing... highly overrated, don't you think?


"Whose story was right?"


As the narrative devolves, a narrative generated through the piddling out of chance parts, he is, by choosing not to thrust it whole into amber, preserving rather than the narrative the narrative's ambiguities-that is, his life's, their lives', her life, his life, as these are: "Hard to kill." Whereas a cleanly biographied life is a deadened one, and for all eternity, particularly dead when one thrusts the knife in oneself in an exhibitionist's exhibition of derring-do, dying in prolonged arabesques. He tries it out, and brings it round to failure. Giving the lie, he pulls out the knife to look at. One doesn't necessarily laugh out loud, but-

the clean crack of bats saying you can't eat like that in Paris




There was a choice between was and will be that he didn't like to think about. He tried to stick to is, whatever its inadequacies, but he kept slipping future.

Within a narrative built of slivers of memory, written at the edge of death, he forces himself, but with comic failure, to nonetheless look forward by forcing the verb tense, an episode perhaps put forth as a demonstration of the abject perversity one comes by living through words-oh the things that are possible, in the manner of the geneticist's most prized maimed mouse.


The final abstract object of the narrative is presented doubtfully, wistfully, in opposition to the questions his memory naturally raises-those passive, inconsequential recalculations, the assessment concluding: "...who can say why?... Does it have a sense of its own, like a tree?" followed on by the abstracted action, trumping the object, and circumscribing it all: "Desperation rhumba." Tree or no tree, he is at many points out there on the floor.


But one even in the end has the chance to by chance, or ignorance, or inexperience, or by fiddling it into words, fail this radiant koan of a tree:

Cut the log lengthwise he'll get lumber, cut across, he'll get its age, its history, its mystery.

Cutting rather, and immediately, to the chase, away from this diverting question of the tree into the devilish detail of the pronoun, a reader's writer: "But who is the question! Anyone?" Madness to question in the end who the he that he is is, is it him, is it anyone, is it everyone? And who can tell him? "He'll be the question." Putting it to rest, as if by slightly reluctant self-sacrifice, he will consent to be him. Calm, the future tense, drift outward.


"It was a duet with common sense." One could say it was a duel. But let's not be too upbeat.