The Book of Lazarus
The story of a brutal war between the Mafia and a seventies revolutionary gang, The Book of Lazarus is the second volume of Richard Grossman's American Letters Trilogy, which describes earthly visions of hell, purgatory and heaven. The first book in the series is The Alphabet Man, his award-winning novel about a serial-killer poet struggling with damnation.
"The Book of Lazarus isn't just a successful portrayal of a dream-turned-nightmare. It also is a risky and moving novel, a dignified piece of visual art - and a welcome challenge to publishers who believe the successful bottom line lies in ghost-written celebrity bios." —The Seattle Times
"If an artist's task is, as Beckett claimed, to 'find form to accommodate the mess,' then Grossman has done it, with an exceptional feat of choreography and a radical vision for the possibilities of fiction." —Voice Literary Supplement
The impulse to help others is a mad impulse, and I've had to admit in my sobriety that I only wanted to help myself, to rescue myself from my own pit of helplessness. But surprise! to take on the brute forces of injustice is to enter an unbearable realm of meaning. Life is neither heaven nor hell. It is merely absence and must be lived without satisfaction. My philosophy has been to make the best of a bad situation. Unfortunately, kindness in the face of ugliness becomes abstracted. This is the lesson of the Cross. The true tragedy of Christ is that He was turned into a symbol. We are forced to seek redemption where redemption is an absurdity, which is why my only option turned out to be heroin. Heroin is mental money.
The world becomes inconsequential as we huddle over the thinning flames of our pleasure. Then pleasure itself is reduced, the flames become smaller and harder and let off glares that consolidate into tortures cast in universal confusion. I have done my damage and made my amends. I have slowly converted to a deeper faith. The streams of life are turned into rivers that are turned into streams, and water is nothing but water. Before Christ, there was only hell. And yet by dying for our sins, He created the spark of hope that means redemption for the faithful. To be reborn in Christ is to love not for the sake of loving but because love is the highway and release from the endless extension of sin through space and time.
The lowest common denominator of life is waiting. Everyone is continuously waiting. We simmer in a broth of instincts while praying clumsily for someone special to turn down the heat. We are tormented by the inseparability of good and evil. The fully-grown are shoveled into the earth with pure tools, and their blood that lavished the brain is nothing more than false color and a loosening of atoms. The smell of brimstone hangs in the air and drips from clouds. It rises from the ground in plants and is bathed in virtual goodness. We are placed on this stinking globe to leave something behind that was added before we were born. We are here to shed imponderable pasts where nothing can be remembered.
I am an oppressor of oppressors, and my mind is constantly in a whir. Nobody will step on my dignity, and nobody will ever keep me quiet. I cannot expect to find integrity in this world if I possess no integrity myself. Nobody will ever put me down and I'll go to my death standing. The world is a mad palace and nesting place for vermin. I have thought long and hard in this context about the inherent meaning of cash as a store of value and a soporific. Originally, when Gerry and Tubby and I started the brigade, we used to call ourselves White Russians. We didn't believe in saving the lower classes, we believed in eliminating the lower classes. We wanted a depopulated planet. We wanted to establish an aristocracy of culture. We wanted to destroy the institutional framework that was breeding human rats. In this putrid landscape of brain-depleted rodents, the most capable of men are seemingly beyond paradox.
The force of purgation is human evil. We are rarefied by our habits. We must nurture the ability of precise and terrible thinking. We must attack the world of decayed and cheap philosophy. Nothing can ever again be popular.
That is why utopian radicalism disgusts me because purity in revolution is in pure destruction, in making plenty of room for the future, and to work hard is almost to explode. A man who worries about his victims is merely inconsequential whereas dyed-in-the-wool revolutionaries are unaware of why eternal hell is such a big fucking deal. Brutal logic runs beneath their language. It is deranged and real and is muttered instinctively in codes. Most people cannot understand this truth because everything they think is so cardboard and fearful of evil. They have to be fed their presumptions. Now I sit patiently in my living room and wait for death. A patch of small sores mixed with mud. AIDS is an outcome of cravings.
I am losing weight rapidly. My ears are getting large and my chest is caving in. I can no longer open jars. I read and write within the eye of a fecal hurricane, within the flowing gunk of an abscess, within the torpid movements of depression. I pay for these paragraphs with searing headaches, and everything in my life seems strangely unnecessary. I subsist on a diet of herbs, pills and mushrooms.
Bobby and I yammer like old men. Since his talk with the principal he has been battered down. He is enmeshed in vain projects of description. He can't see clearly that life is in tatters. He moves against the flow. His narratives are filled with holes, since most of the people he loves are lodged in troughs. Bobby and I both made the disgusting mistake of trying to fill ourselves with energy. He is a vagrant, and I am the armed fool. I thought that there was salvation in small acts of kindness and meaningless chores, but unfortunately there is only an infinity of smallnesses. It used to be that forty years was a lifetime. The Hebrews wandered in the heat until the last of their generation had died so that a new people could enter a new land. Now a forty-year-old is a callow fool. A grub. A larval cavity.
Most madness is meaningless and even dangerous to meaning, but there is an artistic madness that contains all meaning and can only be felt by the few. This is art: where the mad speak in whispers linked through vacuums. When I think back on the brigade, it's ridiculous that most of us were addicts. Gerry used to maintain that all we wanted was a world with cheaper drugs. Since many of us were writers, I remember Marty saying that ink was also a drug. We pleaded, he said, for psychopathic understanding. Psychopathic understanding was beamed in from other planets and created Triggons who went to the bathroom once a week. Triggons were the only ones who could understand how fucked up we all were.
Why was it that no one else was into drama? We were all, even Marty, devoid of criminal excitement. Gretchen wanted to be a moll, but only in bed. A hooker with attitude, she was into dress-up. In many ways she was the source of many of our political problems because she was so detached and theatrical that she caused us all to have an unexpected definition. Gerry joked that we should have saved ourselves a lot of effort and merely kidnapped Gretchen. That tying up Gretchen was a profound and devastating revolutionary statement since if Gretchen couldn't paint her nails, the world would slowly come to a halt and the machines of night would quickly destroy themselves. Gerry didn't live much longer after that and neither did Gretchen.
As an aging revolutionary, I have no desire to commemorate death. Bobby fights to keep things in his scarred brain. It's as if he is trying to remember something that none of us ever said. His memory book is a lament for the permanent loss of justice. Writing into strange collapsed places, like accordian pleats, one can only take this thought and pride of his so far. Do men who are dying need clean sheets? We have created a vast system of dependencies.
Being around Bobby, I have made a careful study of poetry. I have seen that there is no predetermined direction to the birth of a word, that words move across the page like beams of random light moving through immense voids of wandering flares. Poems are built like jewels. The intricate structure of his books, spewing from fountains of loss, from muffled chords of history, carefully planned and balanced in a volatile mental space, a consistent zone of meaning, has taught me a certain kind of severity and quietness. We have been through such changes together, our outsides, our thoughts, our character, our devotions, our habits, everything we were has changed. Life can be conquered, but first it has to be abandoned.
I used to choke on bitterness, because the conditions that were universal were sick with humor, and I wanted to smash teeth when only the pain inflicted on others could stop the incessant laughing. Nobody's face was appropriate. I hated myself for acting in the interests of self-interested people so that any system of purity would be automatically corrupted. Many of my friends loved filth, and they loved the taste of urine. They would shoot the most disgusting chemicals and they would fuck animals. They would smash potato-sized Turkish cockroaches with fists and paint their lips with the juices. They would tie up their enemies and throw them in cellars and then take them out in the country and dump their bodies. One could not boil it down and make it cute. It couldn't be lauded or televised. One feels total disgust for the lack of self-sufficiency and for the absence of dignity that has forced me to be so theoretical and lonely.
Existence is unmitigated pretension, stupidity and boredom. People are cruel because the body sucks away our morality, and we are burdened with lunkish meat from the very beginning, when we were gobs of squirming flesh. There is no peace of mind, just bad dreams and horrors, indigestion, liver pain, financial betrayals, larcenous hugs, accumulating blindness and unredeemed intercourse among smells of old whiskey. In this, my only refuge has been hypocrisy and the accumulation of wealth. It is true, I admit it now at the end of my life, that I intended from the beginning to run off with the ransom money and that I went to Turkey to set up my business. It doesn't mean that I didn't hate the system and that I wasn't deeply committed to the revolution. The revolution was never about money anyway. That was one of the factors that brought everybody down. I am dying and everyone can kiss my ass.
The world is filled with neotenous goons, staring into computer screens. In Burkina-Faso, and Somalia, in Timbuktu and Patagonia, in Outer and Inner Mongolia, in Sri Lanka and Botswanaland, in every land, the same disgusting, cash-enraptured moral dwarf is sweating his load, staring at blips, robbing the poor and banking his trinket money. The motivating dream is the dream of raw power. Regression run amok: never being able to step into the same stream twice and never really wanting to. A worldwide absence of refinement. Odyssey razor blades. Iliad vacuum cleaners. George Bush pulling off his undergarments to masturbate, searching for the barest possibility of pleasure in his flaccid cotton member. Everyone is impacted, fucked up, maladroit and ridiculous. But I earned my bundle the only healthy way. I stole it. I had the Canadian export service par excellence, providing Turkish heroin to all the addicts in the great state of Texas and other communities of drug-worship.
The American dream, to soak the poor by selling them cosmetics, spreads like wildfire across the globe because in every society there are scummy nerds, vicious creeps, and beer-bellied robots. They will link together over the next twenty years to forge a new source of information. They will work to subdue inconvenient cravings. They will be sport killers of innocent birds.
Bobby claims that taste, impeccability, sensitivities to tones, colors, words, shapes, the entire undercoating of imagination, are disappearing from the American consciousness, and that the planet is under the temporary tutelage of slaveholder demigods. Imagination is the sworn enemy of the future, the bane of the franchise-holder. To navigate ancient glistening worlds, Ulysses risking everything, to feel everything, when every feeling is new, to be swept away by southern winds, to wade through a dawn of smoking corpses, to spew out columns of overarching solar ions from the brainstem, to blast through the inner framework of creation, to do anything, to think everything, all these impulses, he feels, had forced us into revolution and destruction. We were beyond any hope or frustration. We only had each other in a sense that none of us could enunciate. We struck out at the webs of nightmare, at the world of perfumed chimps, fingering their castanets. The PLB of crude, junkie misanthropes, crusading for humanity! The subtle culmination of sixties thinking! Bobby said it: it was over before we began. To his credit, he never expected better than what he got, in spite of the loss of Cynda and their baby.
Everyone is a phony. The experts talk a good game, say the perfect things, and have the perfect gleams. Everyone is an idiot.
It's raining money. There is a storm of money. People run with their eyes aloft, grabbing the bills as they fall. They bump into each other, they slay each other as they stuff the cash into their pockets. It's a firestorm of money. A blizzard of money. Money! Money! Money! Tumbling money! Everyone is stoned on it, gorged on it. Paupers and plutocrats can never get enough of it. It's universal paper madness. It's rectal ugliness. It's suffocating. It will continue until one man is standing. At the end, one happy man will have control of everyone else's cash. A man surrounded by numerical phantoms. A man who is proud of his middle initial.
This is the singular wisdom of civilization: mankind has given up on being intelligent, on voicing a protest, on even realizing that a protest against this kind of insupportable condition is possible. A thousand soldiers charge a hill and are exterminated. Then it is bought for development. The developer changes the name of the hill to Battleview Estates. The gardeners stumble over broken teeth and casings. Lawyers, accountants, chiropractors, and specialists of all kinds and descriptions move in. Nobody feels superior and everyone is satisfied.
Is there any modern transaction that is sacrosanct? The infrastructure of capitalistic fervor is based on a repetitive and tacky lie. Government, advertising and mating require that truthfulness be a pose. Wars are desert storms, and lying is the projection of internal misunderstanding where evil is being recast and redefined. What have we gained in the past ten-thousand years? Longer lives? Actual comfort? We are a lobotomized mould or glue, a sticky paste, a stinking corruption of nature. Stock-exchange tokens.
Sometimes I think that fruits are the opening sores of trees and that all the realms of life could on some deep, perhaps the deepest level, on the most intimate of levels, overcome the procreative urge, rise in protest and eliminate existence through abstinence. Lifelessness as a staged revolt against the God-given, a false warmth with no one getting warm. My rage, it is true, has destroyed my family. I am a blind fury writing in a suburb. I'm almost not human; I'm almost not sane. My disease is strictly an outcome, a means of wound exposition, of staging a living death. I have transcended personal need. I have my plots and fictions. A bag of bones. I am the new Jew, a false identity, a classmate of Bobby's, an old and withered drupe.
Consequently there is nothing to be gained from human structures. Men must be in agreement with the world and with divine mercy. Christ was born among cows and the sheep and the goats. He was laid among the food of animals. The oxen, for a delightful moment, forgot what it meant to be oxen, stars descended into the fields, and passion, for the very first time, was vindicated in the touch of a baby. This is the ideal to be pursued, that in the enflamed core of violent aversion to all things human, in the hatred of one's own skin and muscle, the soul can sing out of judgment, there can be a new freedom and a new sponsorship of the image of God.
Is there sex in hell, and if so, what kind? The comprehensions of the mad are limited by these expressions of the sane. Asylums must be redesigned to allow for full and complete physical involvements. There are madmen who fear the frontal attack of citizens, that the sane will surround the shelters of the mad and toss them out. This has recently happened. In primitive lands there was really no disease, and shamans conversed with the spirits of hunted beasts. There was no need for writing when the bark on the trees could be read as a substitute treatment for decency. Now all good things are hacked out and strange, rational and manipulated, and the mad go begging.
Between any two people there is always new language, but that such an energy would flourish can only occur when the communicants shed their identities, as Bobby and I have done, so that the pure word is left to develop on its own and to assert its own validity. This has been the method of our actions. The oppressed are confronted with the formlessness of signs and out of that, out of the emptiness that winds in and out of routine and constant signals of human betrayal arise the purveyors of hope, those that actually believe in the possibility of a world without poverty.
Bobby has forgiven me my excessive desire to destroy others. He knows that I did nothing to hurt his wife, that it was my wife, who had been rendered helpless, and who was responsible for destroying his. Bobby didn't want me to kill Marty, and he didn't want Marty to kill me. It is interesting, the friendship of men with blood on their hands. Many such friendships end in death.
If there were any escape to torrid zones, moving up-river on junks, the frigid ecstasies of opium dens, group sex with the natives, if there were any answer in travel—but there is nowhere to go where the cries of human action cease to arise with absolute consistency, where there are no loaded trials and subhuman jurors. Harbingers fly up from all our toppled altars. They have nowhere else to go.
Kindness and sin. Sadness and fatherhood. The stuff of legends. My rock. My staff to comfort me. I have made so many mistakes and closed myself off from so much, as if drawn through the world in search of the things that never could be. Sometimes the demons talk to me, but so do the spirits of heat and light. I am a servant of the mid-ground and would be lost without this intimacy. If Jesus wanted me to be anything but a Jew, he would have become a Catholic himself. I have nothing but empty neighbors and am moving toward a clear and endless vision.
This vision demonstrates the isolation of men who are trapped within their own unities. Around them, through them, across them, next to them, within them, they are invaded, transgressed, punched, choked and tormented with the instant agonies of time. The center, the self, what they are, is impalpable and vulnerable and at any moment they are ready to go down, to tumble through dark shafts. There is no logic that will explain the basis for this game, yet instead, every man considers himself to be the victim of circumstance, he creates emotional frameworks that turn rotten, and he awakens every morning to the bitter aftertaste of sorrow.
We rise or fall in relationship to sameness. Bobby has taught me that we either are cleansed and eventually removed from judgment or are sullied and remain to be born again and again into suffering, pain, hardship, fear, despair, cruelty, sickness, madness and meaningless groveling. We stay within existence until we get it, and when we get it, we are transported elsewhere, to where faith and probity take us, to be reunited with a loving God. This is the miracle of our Savior. My tragedy is that I always take this change too seriously. I stay where I am and fight. I create victims, and I refuse to become innocent.
The most excruciating thing about dreams is that in them we manufacture our own light. Is there sunlight after death? Is there a Book of Life that records the sins and sorrows of another world? I don't care, and whatever world I enter, I will enter with maximum defiance. Wherever I go, if they don't like me, they can boot me out or perhaps, if I can, I'll leave voluntarily. I'll take a crap and leave. And wherever I reappear, I will challenge the morality-mongers. I'll forge through subversion extraordinary opinions that will disturb and constantly elevate, and I'll make dangerous friends, and I will be unkind.
The Book of Lazarus
The Book of Lazarus