01.07.23 [on the j train]

if i had taken communications classes in college instead of lurching into and through my current career like an ewok in an imperial walker i would maybe know what to call the unpleasant shiver of self-awareness one experiences when one is revealed to be representative of a particular demographic (pardon the word salad here, i've only been awake and caffeinated for a bit) - you know, like when you're showering at a youth hostel in amsterdam and the guy in the stall next to you turns out to know your ex-boyfriend and also be a regular at the indie coffee shop you favor a few suburbs up the freeway back home in southern california. the unheimlich of realizing you're a type? this is not quite like when your phone correctly predicts what you're about to search for, but there is a flip side of this, a bourgeois relief when you realize strangers (or artificial intelligences, i guess) already know what you want. this is all a very inelegant ay of saying i was starting to type WHAT POWERS DOES A GHOUL HAVE and my phone leapt to search results about the speaker of the house, which is in fact the other repulsive and luckless being i have been thinking a lot about this week. on the first or second day of unsuccessful kevin mccarthy coronation i was out for a walk and got an "it's hakeem jeffries" text that i initially thought was from joe - holy shit, i thought, six republicans grew consciences and formed a coalition of the comparatively sane with the democrats! - but it was actually a fundraising bot à la all the "nancy pelosis" that u up?'ed me this fall. i had kind of wanted to get a pool together to take bets on how many votes kev and company would shamble through but i couldn't decide what the prize for the most accurate guesser would be (the buy-ins would go to some charity, i hadn't decided which yet. the aclu?) but i live in fear of getting punished for misrepresenting contest rules, an aversion i developed when i got stuck managing back-of-the-book fine print as a magazine editor that might be with me for good. anyway, congratulations, SPINO, i hope your portrait is a corker.

on ghouls, i just finished bones & all the book, and was reminded in the acknowledgements that the author wrote her "eaters" (it is the story of young people who eat people) as ghouls rather than cannibals, a distinction in her mind that involved their being supernatural beings and not twentieth-century donner partiers or something. this comes up both in the piece that interested me in the book in the first place and in a lithub piece that makes an admirable effort to tease apart the difference between ghouls and cannibals (and the former in camille deangelis's 2015 book vs. the latter in luca guadagnino's 2022 movie with david kajganich's screenplay, which for my money deserves an oscar nomination for some killer edits). there's a lot to break down there, no pun intended, and even more if you engage with the idea that deangelis wrote her book around the time that she became vegan and intended it to address the ethical problems with eating flesh - and i don't want to be unkind, but i think that theme doesn't land very well for me at all, though i certainly care about the subject - but one big clunker is that the layers of compulsion and need aren't exposed with much clarity. in the book the only supernatural power the eaters seem to have is that they can devour whole people (per the title) very quickly and leave only scraps, whereas in the movie eaters aren't that efficient but can smell each other from, in some cases, a significant distance? which seems at least preternatural if not supernatural? (this is the trouble with writing on a train.) in the book the ghoulish urges read a bit more like kink: the antihero can only eat people he despises and the antiheroine can only eat people who desire her (except for her babysitter, which is apparently a different case because she ate her when she was a very small child). also, ghouls are pretty universally, canonically repugnant, and scavengers, and...necrovores? is that what i mean? mark rylance's character, sully, only eats people who have died, but unless you're a massive dragon, a particularly gifted vivisectionist, or the water snake i caught and fed a tadpole on a camping trip in mendocino when i was a merciless tween naturalist, you kill things in the process of eating them (the only character in the book or the movie who eats only part of someone is one who eats their own hand or hands like an autophagous fast-food mascot). inconsistent rules is one of my pet peeves in stories of the supernatural; my other is when vampires get all forrest gump-y and traipse through history only meeting famous people and writing shakespeare's plays.

anyway: ghouls! the ghouls in the book are on their supernatural road trip in the late '90s during clinton's impeachment trial, and its musical references suffer accordingly (no joy division here; one charater asks another if they like shania twain). the villain has a backstory that makes him considerably less interesting, and the endings don't land very well. deangelis was super gracious about and appreicative of all of the strenous adaptation kajganich did, to her credit, though even that adaptation left me fuzzy on the moral and practical distinctions between ghoulishness and cannibalism, but for my part, after watching like 36 hours of congressional shenanigans this week i can't even tell you if house republicans are ghouls or cannibals, so i respect people who can put themselves out there as a general proposition.

completely unrelated: dr. john wyatt greenlee's english eel-rents of the 10th-17th centuries! "any eel-rent noted as having one eel due represent a place where the record is unclear about the number of eels due (such as the rent due for the mill at wolvey in 1251, which called for the mill to pay 1/2 of all the fish and eels caught there to ivo de dene). in each of these cases, the actual number of eels due almost certainly exceeded one."


imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 are house republicans ghouls or cannibals?
02 how many eels does it cost to live where you live?
03 should i report on the train itself when i'm writing on the train?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

[from sjp]
1-ghouls with cannabalistic tendencies.
2-i’m going to guess. 14.
3-if the train is compelling, then by all means write about it. i’m here for all of it.