Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Michelle Disler’s [Bond, James]: Alphabet, Anatomy, [Auto]biography

Michelle Disler

Thumbing through the Sara Crangle-edited Stories and Essays of Mina Loy (Dalkey Archive, 2011), I am struck by the giddy conceptualism of “All the Laughs in One Short Story by McAlmon”:
, and crackled a laugh that came out in sharp hard spurts
      of metallic sound.
Yoland laughed harshly disdainful.
And she smiled her glistening
mechanically glamorous smile into his eyes
                  was laughing her unlubricated
laugh, steadily now – – – –
The jeer and taunt in her weird laugh – – –
                  She laughed a warmer rusty
chortle now
                  She smiled sphinxly
, and they shrilly shrieked laughter
                  – – voice was higher and more abandoned than usual. It shirieked, but rustily mechanical rather than human.
                  Their jokes could not be heard
because of the laughter,
She gave an inebriated rasp of laughter
– – caused the other girls to shriek their shrill hyena laughter again.
. . .
                 , and she merely rattled her machine laugh,
                  again to chortle dry rattling laughter
                  “I love her laugh.”
                  Her laugh is cleared of emotions.
A roughly two-page piece (here truncated by about half), put, by Crangle, into the “Essays and Commentary” section of the book. Of it, she writes:
McAlmon wrote many short stories that could be the unnamed focus of “All the laughs,” but in terms of its content, Loy’s piece bears a distinct resemblance to “The Laughing Funeral” of Post-Adolescence. “All the laughs” has a title page in Loy’s hand. Although it appears to start in medias res, this speculation is complicated by Loy’s use of a comma at the outset of the occasional line throughout. The handwritten text is formatted like a prose poem; in spite of the vagaries of Loy’s margins, every attempt has been made to preserve the integrity of her lineation.
“Giddy conceptualism” (that is, a thing designed to amuse and reveal—unlike the ennui-burdened work of the recent brute copyists): I read the piece as a kind of pointed sampling of the McAlmon story. A laughter chart. It’s likely that I am “attuned” to read it thus by my reading of Michelle Disler’s recent book, [Bond, James]: Alphabet, Anatomy, [Auto]biography (Counterpath, 2012). A book that seemingly runs Ian Fleming’s Bond novels through a series of mock-mathematical dismantlings, attempts to “solve” Bond’s overall “linear equation” by listing possible variables, and their values. See something like “Y Solve for Unnamed Variables [Bond, James]”:
y = double agent (lure) z, n
y = trees (bloody) l, k
y = red telephone (top secret) z, x
y = “Was he getting serious about this girl?” (express train) p, w
y = “We’ll get plenty of sleep in the grave” (Vegas) z, b
y = champagne (too much, not enough) z, w
Formulaic reductions. Core sampling. Closer to Loy’s stripping the laughs out of a Robert McAlmon story—a kind of Shklovskian “laying bare the device” (obnazenie priema)—is Disler’s cataloguing: “Dislikes [Bond, James]” begins
hates, displays aversion to     double-agent girlfriend     ALSO     dirty jobs, women drivers, women spies, poisonous fish, poisonous insects, poisonous plants, egomaniacs     ALSO     villains who touch his gun, sodden guns, hired guns     ALSO     peace, panic, henchmen, genital mutilation, losing at cards, restraint, flowers     ALSO     crying in double bourbons, in airport bars, cheaters, prudes, liars     ALSO     helpless women, women of privilege, women who are overly made up, unattractive women     ALSO     Barracudas     ALSO     being held hostage, vague death threats . . .
And, later: “boredom, sediment, long seductions, “pimping for England”     ALSO     kidnapping, kimonos . . .” Bond’s character found in the juxtapositions generated by the list-making. Elsewhere Disler assembles indices (“Unspecified [Bond, James]” is labeled “absurd categories, an index of” and includes such items as “Bond’s Best Most Meditative and Introspective Moment. See also Most Ridiculous Utterance by a Girl in Bed” and “Worst Bond. See also Best Girl; Most Ridiculous Utterance by a Girl in Bed . . .”), multiple choice problems (“1. Bond’s heart                     at the sight of her. / a. hammered b. lifted c. sang d. warmed e. went cold / 2. Bond’s heart                     at the thought of sporting with the villain at golf. / a. hammered b. lifted c. sang d. warmed e. went cold . . .”), and ferociously revealing (of “[Bond, James],” of Ian Fleming’s writerly mannerisms, and of something of Disler’s own discerning eye) accounts:
Approximate Number of Times [Bond, James]

not quite exact, ballpark       takes cold shower 10; takes ice-cold shower 1; takes sizzling cold shower 1; takes hot shower followed by cold 2; takes hot or cold bath 2; orders Bourbon 6; orders martini 10; is drunk, hung over 2; smokes 70 cigarettes per day 1; admits doesn’t like killing in cold blood 7; smiles grimly [17?]; is in villain’s employ 3; admits he has no plan, no way out of serious trouble 2; doubts ability to defeat villain [4?]; pumps round from gun into hotel bed or other furniture [5?]; dreams 5; sleeps dreamlessly [8?]; sleeps the “shallow sleep of ghosts and demons and screams” 1; proposes to needle villain 2; proposes 2; needles villain 3; is needled by villain [6?]; is offered a woman in marriage 1; bluffs villain [56?]; appreciates villain as a worthy adversary 6; speculates villain is completely insane [8?]; shoves gun into trouser waistband 9; says breakfast is favorite meal 3; contemplates animal beauty [taut breasts, etc.] of girl [89?] . . .
Etc. A bruising kind of lark amongst the stripped down particulars. Disler’s “ballparking” allows some likely less-than-fortuitous alignments, that “[89?]” count for “contemplates animal beauty” gets assigned, too, to “loses consciousness.” One at random (for the copyists amongst us). (Disler’s epigraph reads, cheekily, after all: “‘No escape. There was only bluff.’ Ian Fleming.") And then, mid-alphabet, the contextualizing move puts Disler precisely in Bond’s own boots:
Epigraph [Bond, James]

“Bond peered through the slits in his mask. Yes, by God! Two of the thugs were standing beside the ticket man watching the throng with deadly concentration. On the far side of the road stood the black Mercedes, petrol vapour curling up from its exhaust. No escape. There was only bluff. Bond put his arm round Tracy’s neck and whispered, ‘Kiss me all the way past the ticket-table. They’re there, but I think we can make it.’
      She flung an arm over his shoulder and drew him to her. ‘How did you know that that’s what I've been waiting for?’”

“Fork Lift for Hell!”
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Ian Fleming 1963

Or another:
Forgetting [BOND, James]

contingent, like acts of mastery, on           beauty, champagne, empty magazine, loaded magazine, rare blood type, her broken nose, killing in cold blood, license to kill, limits to a man’s courage     ON TOP OF     death-cure, voodoo curse, vomiting on the beach, violet hour, velvet dress drawn tightly across the breasts, the saying of unpleasant things     AS WELL AS     shark repellent, sleep of dreams, small curling waves inside the reef on a foreign shore, slight tingling of the scalp, scent in the nose of a clean sea, nightmares, non-essential parts of the body, bamboo shade along the sweltering banks, beach sand littered with bullets     ADDED TO     holiday in the sun, hypocrisy toward her, hot silence, hard sand too warm for sleep, “Why do they hate us so much,” sweeping waves of sleep, “Would you like me in white with pale blue birds flying over me,” phantom memories, manacled wrists, memory of pain, illusion of power, “pair of queens kiss[ing] the green cloth,” her glittering body, her body torn lifeless from the churning sea     OVER AND ABOVE     swirl of movement in dark glass, sass, soft mission, standing transfixed, slight flush at the temples, “the sensual bluntness that breeds mistakes,” too much champagne, too many cold showers, too much blood, a terribly exciting girl, colored glass, gone soft on account of poisoned fruit, gone pale     WITH     clenched teeth, cruel eyes, unnamed curses, gun-sight ground into the coccyx, grated egg with caviar, skeleton grip, imagination above everything else     PLUS     empty window frames, expensive pine-bath essences, questions as easy as possible, the vital purpose of evil, peccadilloes, “privileged to emerge better and more virtuous men”
There is emergent here, one thinks, “after all, a place for the genuine.”