The cult section of the literary world

A Blast from the Bizarro Past

The Internet Wayback Machine offers a wormhole into Bizarro of previous decades! Do you recall all the books and authors referred to in this REFERENTIALLY MANIACAL essay?  Referential mania is a basic mental requirement for denizens of the Bizarro world. And that means you.

by Tom Bradley

How could his nose, which had been on his face only yesterday, unable to drive or walk independently, now be going about in uniform?

–Nikolai Gogol, “The Nose”
Nabokov, a.k.a. “the Nab,” lived long ago in the dim pre-Bizarro days. Not having recourse to us, he read stories about spaniels discreetly fucking and sending love letters back and forth, and an unhappy man’s nose creeping off, climbing a couple rungs up the socioeconomic ladder, then snottily declining to condescend back down onto the face whence it sprang. These peculiar dreams were dreamt by someone whose name sounds whimsical enough without truncation: Gogol.

The poor Nab, by his own account, was infected, terminally: “…after reading Gogol,” he cried, “one’s eyes become Gogolized. One is apt to see bits of his world in the most unexpected places.”

He went off in a permanent conniption, eyeballs gagging in Gogolized smog. The Nab’s world became distorted with what he called referential mania. Everything suddenly became a “veiled reference to his own personality and existence… Everything was a cipher, and of everything he was the theme.” Sound familiar? It should. Referential mania is a basic mental requirement for denizens of the Bizarro world. And that means you. Mad Nab had become your forbear.

If such a moral catastrophe could wrench a Roosky way back in the sleepy, safe, quaint age of innocence, the pre-Bizarro epoch, imagine what would happen if the poor Nab had survived the metabolic shock of his own Gogolization and stayed alive till now. What if he went shopping for good reads today, under the current Bizarro regime, when our ministries hold sway over the imaginations of all Homo sapiens? What would we do with him?

As it was, even without being Bizarroized, the Nab’s referential mania swelled to an almost proto-Bizarro extent. He proceeded to hallucinate no fewer than 999 lines of rhymed couplets, then maniacally referred to them in three hundred pages of scholarly footnotes. Today those footnotes would not be comprised of ten-point type. Rather, crumbs of apotemnophiliac flesh would be sprinkled on the page, not merely self-referred, but self-amputated. And instead of starting out in the first line as the shadow of the waxwing slain, the Nab would have crept and slid among purpling children and blood.

He did choose to creep and slide among an older type of child: college kids. Thirty-three years of American history would need to grunt and hulk past before there would be a Naropa College hip enough to request desk copies of Bizarro texts. But the Nab had to make do with the moment of academic time in which he was stuck. Under the dissociative influence of Gogol, he wandered into a lecture hall at Wellesley College and began to rant at a disconcerted gaggle of patrician coeds.

Having no Kafka Effekt to hawk on his syllabus, he had to settle for The Metamorphosis. He assured the girls that the glitzy man-insect was no cockroach but a dung beetle. And he proved his assertion with the extensive sort of entomological erudition that only a Gogolized referential maniac could ever acquire, someone alienated from bipedal life, not unlike any number of our Bizarro protagonists today.

Having frightened the Wellesley ladies as badly as they could be frightened without the aid of Bizarro-horror, but not yet having fumigated the insects that still skittered in his cranium, the Nab armed himself with a butterfly net. He stumbled up the moonlit mountain behind my boyhood home and successfully stalked a theretofore unseen bug, which he proceeded to name after a halucinated jailbait seductress. Today, fifty years later, he would be spasming at the sight of neither butterflies nor cockroaches nor dung beetles, but at Million-Year Centipedes, and many other sorts of Bizarro bugs, all under the protection of Oscar Legbo.

And, of course, those creeping bugs must not only crawl under his skin, but infest his place of residence, which should be a squalid duplex of puce stucco smeared over splintery frame. Living next door to the foot fungus factory, he will have occasionally to get some air.

After saying “Fuck off” to his landlady the lobotomist, he steps out onto his front stoop, surveys the neighborhood, and finds it transformed into Vulgaria. A permanent creche scene has been sunken into the court house’s concrete steps across the street. It features a baby Jesus, shaped and lubed just like a rectal dildo. It’s swaddled in the shitty diapers of Princess Diana’s secret baby, which has been fetched for the purpose, plucked posthumously and embryonically from the satisfactory Parisian wreckage.

Bizarroized up to the eyeballs, overwhelmed by the reek of the neighbor’s spider pie, the mad Nab has had enough. He falls down on hands and knees and crawls, weeping and howling, back into the house. He bellies salivatingly up to his wife’s insteps, as in the late pages of Ada, his terminal hallucination, and begs to be turned loose. “Vera, Vera, please get me out of here! Let’s fuck off back to Gogolville!”

Mithra the cat, happy to join him down there on the floor among the insect segments and rodent droppings, brings him tribute: among other things, a severed, yet sentient presidential penis, and sundry Pruntyized body parts randomly fallen off. The sight of this congeries takes a strange, inexplicably mollifying effect on the Nab’s sensorium. He gets gradually calm, hiccoughing only once in a while with residual terror.

He begins, like Mary Wollestonecraft’s meat puppeteer, to piece things together. Among the chunks, he finds, at last, a certain long-lost schnozz. And the dead Nab comes to see that we have been completing the preposterous project which he took over from Gogol nearly a hundred years ago. We’ve been busy making the Nab whole.

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