Autodidact: self-taught



by V. L. Craven

Rabbit Back alternate cover The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen
-001- That explained God. People need an interested listener. They thirst for the undivided attention of someone once they’ve left childhood, so they invented God, someone to watch them and listen to them all the time.
-002- [Talking about one of the members of the Rabbit Back Literature Society–Ingrid Katz’s books] As far as Ella could remember, all of her books were young adult novels filled with people committing suicide and having abortions and losing their virginity and suffering alcohol poisoning while living with parents who fought constantly and were in all ways unbearable.
-003- Winter filled his plate and left the drawing room. He found a quiet place in a back room where he might continue enjoying the party.
-004- ‘Martti, if you were any less interested in what was happening around you, you’d be indistinguishable from a leather sofa.’
-005- He’d noticed before that people in their twenties, whenever they were with someone middle-aged, seemed to feel it necessary to find some way to point out the difference in age every five minutes or so. If they didn’t mention it outright, they managed it by means of a polite distance. Unlike others her age, however, Ella Milana seemed to think that they were both originally from the same planet and century.
-006- Don’t try to be so mature and brave and keep things in proportion. It’s a bore.
-007- ‘You must have noticed sometimes how when you tell a story you make up all kinds of additions to it, partly because it improves the story and partly because there are always gaps in your memory. You can’t do that in The Game. The Game isn’t for telling stories. In The Game you leak out whatever is deepest within you, nothing more and nothing less…’
-008- ‘…Maybe the world is what it is. But there are things you can’t talk about. You just keep quiet about them, and I would put this on that list.’
-009- ‘In your head you have a clear, rational version of things. You know–your own story, the one you tell in public. We all dress ourselves in stories. Then you start to spill, and for a little while afterwards you don’t understand what you’re really saying anymore. And finally, always, the thing that is most shocking about spilling is you yourself. That’s the true nature of The Game…’
-010- Ella took Martti Winter’s novel  Hidden Agendas down from the shelf and opened it. There was the photo on the inside cover–a soft-focused studio portrait, sensitively lit and no doubt retouched. The picture let you know that the author wasn’t an ordinary person, he was some kind of literary god made flesh, an enlightened, more evolved being.
-011- I don’t remember anymore exactly what he wrote, but when I heard him read his stories out loud in Laura’s reading room I remember thinking, ‘Fuck, thanks a lot, guess I’ll give up writing now.’ And I wasn’t the only one. That much talent piled up in one person can be fucking depressing for other people. You can start to think, Fuck, I wish he would just die.
-012- A person shouldn’t talk too much, Ella realized. With writing, you could construct a whole world, but talking too much could demolish it.
-013- Happiness is contentment–the feeling that a person is content with the prevailing conditions. But people have an inherent need to achieve, to strive, to work at something–to always be developing. A happy creature stops developing, so happiness is a product of being content and development is a product of discontent.
Happiness, in other words, is a temporary glitch in evolution.
-014- As he gazed into the distance, he could see that the world was full of people who longed for death because they couldn’t bear the weight of their own thoughts. Thinking might be fun at first, but then you got hooked on it. People were even encouraged to do it in school, and in many popular pastimes. In the end, though, it made you miserable.
Winter didn’t know many writers who weren’t unhappy–and he knew a lot of writers, both in the Society and all around the world. The great majority of them suffered from alcoholism mental health problems and stress. Excessive thinking was eating writers away from the inside out.
-015- Winter had hit on something important: the happiest people were the ones who existed as little more than dimly conscious food-ingestion devices that enjoyed the occasional orgasm. Intelligence and thinking were really only needed for acquiring food. Once a person’s belly was full and he had some food stored close by, thinking was reduced to a minimum and worries and needs could gradually be forgotten entirely.
-016- ‘…They say you can never know another person completely. With The Game you can, if you play it by the letter and spirit of the rules.’ He smiled sadly. ‘That’s what makes it such a useful, but at the same time dangerous tool. You see, people dress themselves in stories, but The Game strips us naked at the first handshake. That’s why we older members don’t really enjoy each other’s company…’
-017- Spilling is not the same as telling stories. The spiller has to stop using words to build stories, to forget everything that makes a good story, above all to forget trying to entertain the listener.
‘Things come out in the order they come out,’ Winter says.
-018- He made a decision to continue the manoeuvre he’d already begun, something they had developed when The Game was in its early stages. They called it ‘the x-ray manoeuvre’, for obvious reasons.
‘I assume that you sometimes take all of your clothes off and stand in front of the mirror naked, looking at yourself. I want to know everything you see, and what you think about what you see.’
-019- ‘…Once you’ve played The Game with someone enough, you can hardly speak to them anymore…’
-020- Winter talked more about how Laura White had taught him to look at everything with an outsider’s eyes.
‘We were supposed to look at ourselves that way, too,’ he said. ‘She would take us in front of a mirror and make us stare at our own reflection until it started to feel alien and peculiar. Then we were supposed to write a description of ourselves and imagine that it was written by someone else, someone who had never seen a human face before. She tore up my first five attempts. It wasn’t until the sixth one that I accomplished what she was looking for.
‘When I read it aloud to the others, Silja Saaristo ran out of the room and threw up…’
-021- ‘…I enjoy having someone to talk to for the first time in a long while. I had forgotten how pleasant a chat and a cup of coffee can be. For some reason you don’t get on my nerves nearly as much as most people do.’
-022- ‘I’m going to teach you a new manoeuvre. It’s called the mirror. It’s different from the other moves because the blindfold is tied on the challenger instead of the spiller.’

‘I want you,’ he said, ‘to look at me as if you were my mirror and convert my image into words and spill out everything that you think when you look at me.’
-023- She concentrates. She closes everything out of her mind but the rules of The Game. Nothing else matters but honouring the rules of The Game. She has to build a precise picture of his nakedness in her mind and clothe it entirely in words, without concealing a single thought.
-024- …we need light immediately in Martti Winter’s garden, where the statues dance their frozen dances and the trees spread their branches like squids in some historical nightmare…
-025- She touched her nose to the window glass, focused on her own reflection, and thought that if she kept this up her research was bound to uncover Laura White’s body and a mass grave filled with other bodies and a bomb left over from the war and several buried treasures and a selection of secret tunnels that led to amazing, unknown places.
-026- The rules of The Game stated: Secrets revealed during The Game are confidential. They can be used as the raw material for literature, but they cannot be published in any other form or be made known to anyone outside the Society. Any member who knowingly breaches this confidentiality will be punished by permanent expulsion from the Society.
-027- What joy is there in research, anyway? someone had once asked in one of her methodology courses. The teaching assistant’s answer had made an impression on Ella at the time: Research brings order to the world. It makes things clearer, helps us to understand things. Could there be any more joy than that? Did you ever put together puzzles as a child? The universe is a puzzle with billions of pieces. Putting it together is society’s highest shared responsibility, our right and our joy–and not only that, it is what separates us from the whole rest of creation, with a few possible exceptions.
-028- Ella said that the rules didn’t prohibit the ambusher from being ambushed, and besides, it was always better to challenge than to be challenged.
-029- Jokinen let out a laugh and almost shouted, ‘Everybody knows that no healthy person would take up writing novels. Healthy people do healthy things. All this darned hoopla and hot air about literature–what is it really but mental derangement run through a printing press? And when you’ve written as many stories about murders and acts of desperation as we have, it doesn’t take much skewing to get you to thinking you might be up to all kinds of things, should the need ever arise. It’s remarkable how much easier it is to do something it you’ve written believably about it.
-030- One possible definition of murder would be ‘an illegal activity that causes its target to cease to exist’.
-031- Like everybody, Ella lived inside herself. That’s why she was apt to think of herself as an exceptional case when it came to statistical facts.
-032- Murder was a criminological, ethical and physiological phenomenon. The Society had failed ethics thirty years ago, when all of this began. Murder in the physiological sense was simple, mechanical process, a breaking of a body so thorough that the body ceased to live. Old people and little children and housewives did it; why not writers who felt threatened?
-033- ‘…a writer should know how to think about everything there is to think about, even when everyone else is thinking about only the possible, or the probable….’
-034- ‘Of course, all of this mental preparation has taken its toll. Once you start wondering about things, you end up wondering about your own turds…’
-035- [About her children] ‘I think I feel something for them, and if the need arose I would probably even die for the, rescue them from a fire or something. But when you really think about it, isn’t that love just a hereditary, biologically determined reaction, part of my electrochemical makeup? If too much or too little of something was excreted, would that love disappear. just like that,  poof? Would my children start to look like vermin to me, like little beasts? Is motherhood just based on the fact that chemicals from my organs drug me into imagining that taking care of my children is the most important thing in life? In the end, they’ll move away and become strangers to me, which is what they basically are.’
-036- ‘It’s frightening, but also liberating. Once you learn to wonder about things that are considered normal, you can keep a cool head, even when something less normal crosses your path.’
-037- But when you look for answers to the question of who or what Laura White really is, you find all kinds of peculiar little things that are hard to fit into any reasonable story. So you forget about them, because that’s what people generally do with things like that. People can’t stand it if is thing doesn’t fit into any mould or conform to a ready pattern. Some things just can’t be fully explained.

The Road to Wellville by T.C. Boyle
001. Bender had taken something soft in Charlie, something weak and yielding, something human, and held it over the torch of his cynicism till it blackened and shrank and grew hard as ingot.
002. … weaving a fabric of lies so tight it could have sustained the political platform of a national party.

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