Mar 262012
 

Herewith an excerpt, a chapter called “The Raid” from Eugene K. Garber’s novel O Amazonas Escuro (Swank Books), an ebullient parody, a philosophical inquiry, and a tale of revenge set in the jungles of the Amazon but written, yes, strangely and beautifully, in legal outline form adapted from Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (which book I studied to an unhealthy degree as a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, so I feel on familiar ground though I don’t suppose many other people will). Welcome to the eccentric and startling refractions of Gene Garber’s mental/literary universe, an assemblage, as it were, of the author’s obsessions: oral storytelling, myth and Western philosophy. We are here in the literary tradition of Coover, Barthelme, Hawkes and Gass, the four horsemen of American experiment (called variously metafiction, postmodern, & other equally limiting and not altogether helpful epithets). Of his work, Gene has said, “Readers may be interested in my passionate and perhaps curious fascination with the tale (as opposed to the realistic short story) and especially with tales that make metaphysical probes. The crux of the matter is, I suppose, that I am more interested in myth than history, more arrested by archetype than individual—an aesthetic position fraught with terrible dangers.”

Gene Garber is an old friend, a former colleague, even, briefly, I guess, my boss, when I hosted The Book Show at WAMC in Albany, when the show was sponsored by the New York State Writers Institute (this was some time before the last Ice Age, if I recall correctly). He started life in Alabama but  is now a Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus of English at the University at Albany, SUNY, and will INSIST on spending his winters in Key West. His 1981 collection, Metaphysical Tales received the Associated Writing Programs Award for Short Fiction. His collection The Historian received the Triquarterly William Goyen Prize. He is also the chief author of Eroica, a fascinating multi-artist hypermedia work in progress.

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Prologue

The ethnographer K lives with the Roirúa-peo in their woshana, a circular compound with reed walls and thatched roof, near the east bank of the upper Negro, which joins the Solimões at Manaus in Brazil to form the Amazon. His careful reports have earned him great credit among anthropologists who favor the etic (objective) analysis of culture. Among those who favor the emic (interior) experience of culture the tenacity of K’s claims have earned him the paradoxical position of an invaluable archenemy.

The Raid

1. The world is all that is the case.

1.1 K is an accomplished linguist.

1.2 K has constructed a grammar and lexicon of the language of the Roirúa-peo. Colleagues attest that his phonetic transcriptions are ear perfect. Consequently, his exchanges with tribal members are free of significant distortions. Nevertheless, his dialogues with Korakama are difficult. Korakama is the tribe’s mystery man. The story is that he was born from an anaconda and grew up with monkeys. Then he went downriver among many peo and even non-humans. One day he walked into the woshana. His body had been painted with beautiful designs by Yara, the river goddess. Nobody touched him.

2. The facts in logical space are the world.

2.1 Korakama is a master rhetorician.

2.2 Korakama keeps his arguments near his hammock in cubby holes only he can see. He takes them out carefully, rubs them until they shine and puts them under his tongue. K’s knowledge of rhetoric is limited. He believes in logos, not ethos or pathos; logic, not topoi and commonplaces. Etic. Korakama’s cubby holes constitute a myriad of topoi, each cubby stuffed with luminous propositions, red, green, blue, and many compounds. “You cannot give your dead free to the Mureka-peo,” he tells the Roirúa-peo tribesmen. His words fly to their ears like darts feathered with blue toucan plumes. “The ghosts of Pydora and Rwoto and Sinaw and Mismuo are crying out to be released by payment of blood. Do you not hear them?”

“Eyo cototo! Eyo cototo!”

3. The way a picture attaches itself to reality is by reaching directly into it.

3.1 Korakama has three pots of rhetorical colors—red, green, and blue.

3.2 Korakama mixes the colors and throws them into the ears and eyes of the tribesmen before they can blink and then he paints. “You who pulled the spears out, did you not follow with your eyes the red life running out? Did you not see their ash after the pyre, gray and without life? Did you not see their wives fall down weeping? What kind of men see their brothers’ smoke go up into the sky and lie in their hammocks doing nothing? Soon you will be blind as grubs. You will not see the spear points come over the woshana wall or the Mureka-peo take your wives.” Korakama’s words are even more dazzling than the figures painted on his body.

4. It is said that God cannot create anything contrary to the laws of logic.

4.1 K asks Korakama if the gods have created more than one world.

4.11 “This is a question only a non-human can ask.”

4.12 K understands why he is a non-human among the Roirúa-peo. He is ghastly white. Hair grows on his body as on a monkey’s. His skin stinks. His fecal matter breeds green flies.

4.13 “I must ask the question anyway.”

“There are many worlds, but we do not know them because we live in this one.”

“Have you ever seen another world?”

“Yes.”

“Was it like this one?”

“Yes, only upside down. The river flows to the mountain and the rain falls up.”

“Do you know anybody that lives there?”

“No. They are the ones that walk on their heads.”

“Then the Mureka-peo live with you in this world.”

“Yes, but they kill us. We must kill four of them and take three women.”

“Why do you want women of the men who kill you?”

“The women will not kill us. If they do not work we will rape them and kill them.”

5. An audio tape, the musical idea, the written notes, and the sound-waves all stand to one another in the same relationship that holds between language and the world.

5.1 K tapes all important conversations.

5.11 K listens to the tape of Korakama telling about the other world he has visited. Meanwhile, out in the center of the woshana men are pounding their chests and shouting angrily. Then suddenly they are quiet, struck motionless in various bellicose postures. Bowakawo is in the center of the woshana holding a spear up high. Korakama is standing by his hammock. K understands it is he that has created this tableau vivant of war.

5.12 “Why did you make the men stop still?”

“I did not do it. The spirit did it.”

“What spirit?”

“Listen.” Slowly the tribesmen begin to move one by one. The music of war rises and throws a loud mantel of sound over the woshana—pounding of chests, humming and hunhing, thrashing of spears. Then from its concealment behind Korakama’s back comes a machete. He slaps the flat of the blade against his thigh.

“Where did you get the machete?”

Korakama laughs. His teeth are yellow. “From some non-humans. I traded a woman, good and young.”

6. In order to judge a logical proposition we have to station ourselves outside logic, that is to say, outside the world.

6.1 K goes on the raid with his camcorder.

6.11 K will not carry a spear or kill any Mureka-peo or take any women. K will station himself outside the world of the raid. He will record it. Then he will judge the logic of its propositions. Etic.

6.12 There are twenty men, some armed with spears, some with bows and arrows. Bowakawo leads. Korakama is in the rear just ahead of K and just behind Rosowara the shaman, who brings his hollow reeds and a supply of ebene. When the time comes he will blow it into the noses of the warriors so they can call up Hekura.

Before K begins to record, he looks through the optical zoom of the camcorder at the backs of the warriors as they course the jungle floor. There is a lighted green border that frames the field and defines the world K is not in. Etic.

7. If a god creates a world in which certain propositions are true, then by that very act he creates a world in which all the propositions that follow from them are true. Similarly, he could not create a world in which a proposition was true without creating all of its objects.

7.1 If bloody visits and reprisals are part of an ongoing protein war, as K believes, then they will continue indefinitely unless an abundance of protein is found or the technology for acquiring protein is radically improved or the consumers of protein are vastly reduced by, say, an even more virulent form of malaria than that which regularly afflicts the peoples of the upper Amazon.

7.11 Suddenly there is a shout at the head of the column of warriors, which then veers off into the forest. Bowakawo has spotted a fallen tree now rotted and punky and full of grubs. The warriors, digging with spears and arrows, pluck out the grubs, pull off their heads and entrails, and eat them voraciously.

7.12 Korakama gives a grub to K. “Even a non-human will like grubs.”

K eats the decapitated and eviscerated grub, which is still wriggling. It tastes creamy and sweet, something like a raw oyster. “Very good, Korakama. And now that you have enough to eat, you will not have to kill any Mureka-peo.”

Korakama smiles. “I know that non-humans have Hekura that give them speech that does not mean anything.” He laughs raucously. Milky white grub juice spills from the corners of his mouth and lands precisely in the middle of a coil of red paint that spirals around his navel.

8. Free will consists in the impossibility of knowing actions that still lie in the future, which we could know only if causality were an inner necessity like logic.

8.1 “Will you say to Bowakawo that it is not necessary to kill and kidnap Mureka-peo?”

“No, because this is begun right. If a thing begun right is stopped, your penis dies.” Korakama grimaces. “The penises of non-humans are different. You can go back now and have women in the manioc garden while we are gone, but do not take them into your hammock. That is different.”

K shakes his head. “I do not want women.”

“Now you like boys but you will soon want women. This is the way of non-humans that come to the river.”

“What will the judgment be if one of your warriors is killed?”

“They will say it is a bad raid. But I cannot know that time.”

“Do you think it would be better not to go into a time you do not know?”

8.11 “I will tell you something of time but I do not believe a non-human can know it.”

“Tell me.”

“Once everything was gray. A god that was a woman bled and color came. Then time was a river without banks. You could go anywhere in it without bumping into anything. Then things got divided. Eels and anacondas and men in canoes came and cut the water apart. Time had banks and falls and swiftness. Gray mists came and hid dangers. You could die no matter how fast you ran. That is how it is now. Only Rosowara can go into the old time but not long. He can see it only a little way. You say one of our warriors can be killed. Rosowara can not see that in this time of divided waters. We must do it.”

9. How can all-embracing logic, which mirrors the world, use such peculiar crochets and contrivances? Because they are all connected with one another in an infinitely fine network, the great mirror.

9.1 K knows that the path from the woshana of the Roirúa-peo to the woshana of the Mureka-peo is virtually a straight line, like a well executed argument.

9.11 After the feast of grubs the warriors do not reassemble in a column to resume their march. They burst apart slobbering grub milk, laughing wildly as if they had ebene in their nostrils. They fan out into the forest yelping like dogs. A warrior spots a monkey and gives the call to action. “Eyo cototo! Eyo cototo!” Others come running. A swarm of arrows flies up at the monkey, which falls to the ground dead. The creature is held up triumphantly by the tail. It is the size of a human infant.

9.2 All of this K records in his camcorder, neatly framed in luminous green brackets. When the exultant clamor at last subsides, the warriors gather up their spent arrows from the forest floor. Several are lodged in the tree. A nimble young man climbs up and frees them. Some of the arrows are particularly valuable. They were shot at the moon in eclipse and gathered in the morning, their accuracy guaranteed.

9.21 K will plumb the logical connection between the raid and these seemingly curious diversions, grubs and monkey—no doubt closely related to the logic of protein.

9.22 Before dark they come to a lagoon where a loosely packed school of small piranhas swim in desultory circles. An older warrior pricks his wrist with his spear and drops blood into the water. A sudden alertness electrifies the fish and propels them into an atrocious thrashing. Korakama leaps forward with his machete and slices through the roiled mass. Within moments the water becomes a vortex of cannibalistic red so bright it spills over the green brackets in K’s camcorder.

9.23 K will plumb the logic of these discursions—grub, monkey, and fish.

9.24 Shortly after nightfall the party of warriors reaches the woshana of the Mureka-peo. Quietly they surround the manioc garden and lie in wait. The underbrush is sparse. Each warrior must choose and arrange his cover carefully. Bowakawo inspects each covert, occasionally directing Korakama to cut with his machete some foliage to improve concealment. Then all settle down.

10. If there would be a logic even if there were no world, how then could there be a logic given that there is a world?

10.1 K knows that in a matter of a few hours much blood will be spilled.

10.11 The logic of grubs is protein.

10.12 The logic of the monkey is rehearsal.

10.13 The logic of piranhas is blood.

11. Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present.

11.1 It is not the job of the ethnographer to anticipate but to observe. Etic.

11.11 K looks through the green frame of his camcorder. All is dark, the top of the Mureka-peo woshana a barely perceptible shadow against the black forest. All is quiet, supper inside the woshana done, the people asleep in their hammocks.

11.12 K recoils from blood. When he sees it, the tastes of salt and metal suffuse his mouth.

11.13 K falls into a dream state though it was his intention to stay awake all night. In the dream he climbs toward the future as if the intervening hours were a wall woven of bamboo and palmettos. He tries to pull the passing hour down off the wall by its tail, but its prehensile fingers and toes are too strong for his hands, which are slick with blood. It continues to climb.

12. How things are in the world is a matter of complete indifference for what is higher. God does not reveal himself in the world.

12.1 Just before dawn Rosowara goes quietly around with his hollow reed and blows ebene into the nostrils of all but K, who waves him away.

12.2 The sun slices into the manioc garden.

12.3 The Mureka-peo men and women come to empty their bowels and to complete trysts that are not permitted in their hammocks.

12.4 K looks through the green frame of his camcorder.

12.41 K’s nostrils, all unwilled, betray the impartiality of the recorder.

12.411 The odor of feces is rank and vegetal.

12.412 The odor of semen is rich and pungent.

12.413 The odor of blood is like corroded iron.

12.5 The spears are sharp and draw howls and blood. The arrows are piercing and draw shrieks and blood. But there is nothing in the garden like Korakama’s machete. A head severed from its body does not howl.

12.6 Korakama and Bowakawo are true to the plan. When four men lie dead and three women are chosen to be taken away, the rest are allowed to escape back to the woshana. And then the Roirúa-peo warriors and their captives run like river rapids. The women are struck across the mouth and understand they must run silently.

12.7 The forest floor streams across the green brackets of K’s camcorder like a rampaging river of earth and grass. He turns it off, slings it over his shoulder, and keeps running. Rosowara runs ahead of him. K’s shod feet are clumsy. He cannot keep up with the barefoot coursers. He stumbles and falls to his knees. The odor of decayed vegetation rises immediately and offends his nostrils. A thick welling of salt rises in his mouth. He has bitten his tongue. Far ahead the Roirúa-peo warriors take up their shout of triumph. They have no thought of him. Soon they will pour through the gate of the woshana amid cries of exaltation. Korakama will sever the air with his machete.

K must get up and run. Warriors of the Mureka-peo may be in pursuit. He rises to his feet but staggers, weakened by revulsion. He slogs slowly toward the woshana like a leaden drunk. As he approaches the manioc garden, light lances his eyes. He squints and slogs on. It seems long minutes before the gateway of the woshana opens before him like a carious mouth mumbling reeds and dust. Though he is grimed and stinking he must steady himself and stand erect as though he were human. He will walk with a certain insouciance, as though he has merely stopped by the way to snack on some grubs.

13. It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that the world exists.

14. What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.

—Eugene Garber

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