Histoire

Harry Mathews

Tina and Seth met in the midst of an overcrowded militarism.
"Like a drink?" he asked her. "They make great Alexanders over at the Marxism-Leninism."
She agreed. They shared cocktails. They behaved cautiously, as in a period of pre-fascism.
Afterwards he suggested dinner at a restaurant renowned for its Maoism.
"O.K.," she said, but first she had to phone a friend about her ailing Afghan, whose name was Racism.
Then she followed Seth across town past twilit alleys of sexism.

The waiter brought menus and announced the day's specials. He treated them with condescending sexism,
So they had another drink. Tina started her meal with a dish of militarism,
While Seth, who was hungrier, had a half portion of stuffed baked racism.
Their main dishes were roast duck for Seth, and for Tina broiled Marxism-Leninism.
Tina had pecan pie a la for dessert, Seth a compote of stewed Maoism.
They lingered. Seth proposed a liqueur. They rejected sambuca and agreed on fascism.

During the meal, Seth took the initiative. He inquired into Tina's fascism,
About which she was reserved, not out of reticence but because Seth's sexism
Had aroused in her a desire she felt she should hide - as though her Maoism
Would willy-nilly betray her feelings for him. She was right. Even her deliberate militarism
Couldn't keep Seth from realizing that his attraction was reciprocated. His own Marxism-Leninism
Became manifest, in a compulsive way that piled the Ossa of confusion on the Pelion of racism.

Next, what? Food finished, drinks drunk, bills paid - what racism
Might not swamp their yearning in an even greater confusion of fascism?
But women are wiser than words. Tina rested her hand on his thigh and, a-twinkle with Marxism-Leninism,
Asked him, "My place?" Clarity at once abounded under the flood-lights of sexism,
They rose from the table, strode out, and he with the impetuousness of young militarism
Hailed a cab to transport them to her lair, heaven-haven of Maoism.

In the taxi he soon kissed her. She let him unbutton her Maoism
And stroke her resilient skin, which was quivering with shudders of racism.
When beneath her jeans he sense the superior Lycra of her militarism,
His longing almost strangled him. Her little tongue was as potent as fascism
In its elusive certainty. He felt like then and there tearing off her sexism
But he reminded himself: "Pleasure lies in patience, not in the greedy violence of Marxism-Leninism."

Once home, she took over. She created a hungering aura of Marxism-Leninism
As she slowly undressed him where he sat on her overstuffed art-deco Maoism,
Making him keep still, so that she could indulge in caresses, in sexism,
In the pursuit of knowing him. He groaned under the exactness of her racism
- Fingertip sliding up his nape, nails incising his soles, teeth nibbling his fascism.
At last she guided him to bed, and they lay down on a patchwork of Old American militarism.

Biting his lips, he plunged his militarism into the popular context of her Marxism-Leninism,
Easing one thumb into her fascism, with his free hand coddling the tip of her Maoism,
Until, gasping with appreciative racism, both together sink into the revealed glory of sexism.


The Broadcast

Harry Mathews


The problem with many of our lives is that they are so often routine: we are busy with this and that, and then in our free time we just doodle inconsequentialities. But last night I happened to listen to a radio broadcast that explained how you could put everything you needed in life into one sock. I don’t know why, but this suddenly brought me to life like the sound of a trumpet. I know the concept was lunatic, I know I’d be hard put to describe why I was tickled, thrilled, and convinced all at once. Let me describe as best as I can what this man told us.

You carefully check your daily routine and notice what you use out of habit and not need--obviously the angel-trumpet blossoms in your backyard that you stop and look at so fondly, or the doodlebugs that you approve of chasing ants at their roots do not belong in that sock, neither does (any more) the newspaper where you read about the broadcast in the first place.

(You did check to see if there were plans to repeat the broadcast since you hadn’t recorded it and there were things that I found difficult to describe to myself after it was over--perhaps I could write the station about the sock program’s availability, for them things like that must be pretty routine, all those guys and their secretaries sitting around with nothing to do but doodle on their memo pads and pass each other notes, like “You really need an ear-trumpet, you’ve asked me to repeat myself the last three times we spoke, even though I trumpet what I say loud and clear,” obviously it’s not the office staff that created that broadcast, some genius, my God I’ve already forgotten his name, no it was Preston Doodle, although I can’t remember if he wrote it or was just there to describe the project, I don’t think so though, his voice wasn’t pro, more like routine, with just that touch of weirdness that would think of putting your life in a sock.)

It has just occurred to me that what I heard as “into one sock” was actually “into one stock.” Maybe I’m the one who needs an ear-trumpet.

Jesus that would mean everything that electrified me was only routine advice and I was the victim of my own wish fulfillment listening to that broadcast. I’m afraid that at this moment my feelings are becoming too painful to describe, it’s as though a cruel God had taken a Q-tip and started to doodle inside my ear, inside my brain, inside my soul, the doodle of despair which I guess is all my life is worth--not worth sticking in a sock even. Still, maybe I can do something with the idea, maybe describe it to some friends as if it were a game to play. Or I could take up the trumpet and get to be so hot on it I’d end up making records and get broadcast myself, yeah, why not.

Meanwhile, it’s not so bad in here, sometimes the routine gets screwed up--I mean my own routine. The supervisors all doodle. The janitor watches one TV broadcast after another. I look at my sock and pretend it’s a golden trumpet too glorious to describe.

 

Back to Syllabus