Our whole civilization is a layer of sediment

I’m reading both Tree of Smoke and Moby Dick now, mainly because Tree of Smoke is heavy. They (it always happens) overlap, when Johnson’s Colonel makes his recruits memorize “The Lee Shore” from Moby Dick:

(it is amazing they do not weigh the same because of all this punctuation)But as in landlessness alone resides the highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God– so, better is it to perish in that howling infinite, than be ingloriously dashed upon the lee, even if that were safety! For worm-like, then, oh! who would craven crawl to land!

I had a classmate once who pronounced intertextuality like you wouldn’t believe–or maybe you would now that you’ve heard Warren’s Malia, Sasha. Anyway, like there were actual copulation involved. Like as if it had that same sort of feeling that happens at jazz shows when someone inevitably quotes another song in his solo and the audience gets a quick laugh in, parts of the audience anyway, and all those parts of the audience are so attracted to each other at that moment in that John Cusack sort of way: that way where there is nothing sexier than being in on something together. Intertextuality.

I saw Jonathan Safran Foer read once, and someone in the audience asked him what he thought of The Da Vinci Code. He told them something along the lines of the idea that all of America was ovulating at the same time together for Dan Brown, and that’s how it got to be so popular. Laughter ripples: we get it. America at her sexual peak


During one temp job I would take my lunch at a park near the office, a park in the middle of a neighborhood, across from a church. One of the afternoons there I watched two men fish in the artificial lake for nearly an hour, never catching anything, not even casting but just sitting. They kept buckets by their sides, for when they did catch something, and a woman brought them sandwiches they would eat one-handed. When I got back to the office I looked it up, learned 1) they do stock the pond, a relief, and 2) the park is built right above a fault line. It’s a special kind of restraint to keep from slapping yourself for thinking how genuinely American. Because I know I don’t really know what that means but just confirm it, the way we confirm all things we think are related because the brain gets so selective. American, yes. Nods all around. Who would craven crawl to land. 


“We are centralized. We have an iron structure. We are closed into a single fist that disappears up a sleeve when it has to. Our will is unshakable.” (Tree of Smoke, 29)

“To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”


I wonder sometimes if before I am dead I will know what it really means to be American. It follows, though, always, the question of what exactly it is I’m fetishizing, what sort of thing I’m chasing after. When I have the history, and opportunities, and still want something more American, more authentic. Really. How genuinely American. 

At the sight of the flag he tasted tears in his throat. In the Stars and Stripes all the passions of his life coalesced to produce the ache with which he loved the United States of America– with which he loved the dirty, plain, honest faces of GIs in the photographs of World War Two, with which he loved the sheets of rain rippling across the green playing field toward the end of the school year, with which he cherished the sense-memories of the summers of his childhood, the many Kansas summers, running the bases, falling harmlessly onto the grass… His love for his country, his homeland, was a love for the United States of America in the summertime.  (64)

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