Ange Mlinko


The Idea



Many years after the nightmare, I tried to reconstruct it. It was a risky enterprise, because the point was not to dream it again and awaken as I did before, terrified, with all the real flight responses to an imaginary predator, but to recall the narrative without the experience. I still believe if I concentrate and imagine dying, I could cause the real thing. I still believe that what happens in my head is very powerful. So I began to introduce to my head the notion that I could remember this nightmare. Like so many terrors, it began in a haunted house. It was called the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Entering the main entrance and veering to the right, passing through rooms of crucifixions to arrive beatifically at the Walter and Louise Arensberg Collection! I hear a bell peal three times: 1) The Duchamp room, Etants Donnees: "Looking through the peephole, the first thing I thought of was a woman raped and dead. The color of the skin, but above all the gash between her legs; it was ragged, it was off center, and it was just a rip in latex; there was no verisimilitude. Later I learned that other people did not feel that way; that emotions ran the gamut from joy to terror. Wait. How could anyone mistake this for an ecstatic encounter with a nymph in the woods? Which is worse: Horror of the potential rape-murder or horror of any experience, no matter how gruesome, experienced by an observer as its opposite?" Seasickness... 2) The Sculpture Room: "There was a brass Brancusi Bird in Space given place of prominence back and center. I don't know what it was about that sculpture that made me return again and again. I saw myself reflected in it, gilded and elongated. I bought a little postcard and hung it on my bedroom wall." (Maybe this space was Modernism itself. That's why it couldn't last long.) 3) Abstract Expressionism: "My freshman roommate moved out by the second semester. I was hurt—I was sure it was the Franz Kline poster over my bed that drove her away. She said it was depressing." Husserl wrote 45,000 pages in shorthand. (Medieval manuscripts were written in Latin shorthand. Mathematical broadsides were posted on town walls for the public’s amusement.) Husserl sang frequently, believing it good for the lungs. Believing also that old men were drowned inwardly by their own moisture, he wore warm clothing to induce sweating. Kant feared perspiration and would stop on his walks in the shade til he cooled off: he had gazed on Nature's naked loveliness, Actaeon-like, and now he fled astray with feeble steps o'er the world’s wilderness, and his own thoughts, along that rugged way, pursued, like raging hounds, their father and their prey. I lay down to sleep, trying to remember the nightmare. Flying in an airplane balanced on the cusp of night, part of a silent streak of orange melting into the sphericity of earth at 30,000 feet: thus did a place I had never set eyes on metamorphose from a thing imagined to a thing seen. They send the Bacchanals to Cardinal Richelieu—for no one was his equal that year, forced from his job at the Boston Public Library for breaking the spine of a Bay Psalm Book, a small cut under the nail where a whole orange inserts itself. Accidents cannot become persons. There is no turning off these speculations, these by-products of an imagination that freely produces folklore and hypotheses though only the latter is subject to proof. When you're a child you can locate these moments because they are so isolated: you spill the milk and your mother’s distorted face looms at you; repenting at leisure you ask God to go back to that moment before you spilled it—and then you wonder if God hasn't granted this request hundreds of times (you would never know). How many times has time hiccupped just for you? Have you died and been brought back to life? Is it any wonder my sister writes to me and says, despite her mathematician's brain, that we are old souls and we do not inherit our souls from our parents? Or shall I sit here and avoid imagining death too vividly, lest imagining have causal effect? My whole high school art history class was at the Museum the day a local news reporter was there, as part of a story having to do with the sale of Van Gogh's Sunflowers for $39,921,750 to the Yasuda Fire & Marine Insurance Company of Tokyo. My teacher pulled me and another student to be filmed arguing our pro and con. I believed painting, great painting yes but painting itself was theoretically worth more than all accumulated wealth. But it was not my footage aired on the news that night. That was the summer we saw the Rocky Horror Picture Show and one of the girls in our group tried to commit suicide with a kitchen knife in another kid's house during an overnight party. In one eye-catching gesture another sleight-of-hand is probably being perpetrated, like the scene in the Beineix’s Diva where the pretty shoplifter is forced to surrender her portfolio, in which she has slipped a vinyl record. She prepared for this contingency by filling her portfolio with nude self-portraits, and it flusters the clerk who then can't find the stolen merchandise. We tried to calm her down. At some point we were in the backyard and it was dawn and I ripped up a handful of grass and said fiercely to her, "You see this grass? This is the world. It's summer. It's beautiful and you have to live in it!" Later we snuck into the basement of someone else's house to sleep. To relieve myself I peed in a strange backyard, hearing the morning dog howls, crouching in the sun and wanting badly to go back to my own room. You go up very close to the keyhole, but it's just a postcard of a painting. The postcards can easily fill the wall, then four walls, then may be photographed and reduced to one postcard that takes its place on another wall and so on. It's as if a person could be represented by "Art History." (Phidias was said to have invented an artifice by which his statue of Athena would crumble should she be parted from her shield, which had his self-portrait in it.) Somewhere in here, the dream assures me, is the nightmare I have been trying to recall. It is different from a daytime nightmare, the total identicality between value and money, the oppression of the social. The nightmare is probably — nothing. Nothingness. The triumph of entropy with no outside and no transcendence, or positive ID of the outside as just a black hole. It sounds like merely an idea, but Ideas are the monsters that Memoirs were invented to repel.