blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1



Helfgott's Parade

Something trapped by the layers of Myron Helfgott’s new work—with its opaque, transparent, aural, textual, and mechanistic membranes—recalls the hypnagogic prologue of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. In it, an "old writer" struggles into his high, oddly-constructed platform bed and curls on his side to nurse a dreamy awareness of "something altogether young . . . like a pregnant woman" inside him, in whom lives "something not like a baby, but like a youth . . . no, [not] a youth, it was a woman, young, and wearing a coat of mail like a knight." This androgynously doubled (trebled? quadrupled?) author drives a parade of grotesques through his dreams, dreams that are as apparent as his semi-conscious thoughts. "All the men and women the writer had ever known had become grotesques" because each one has identified with a particular truth, and "the moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood."

A transmigration between fact and falsehood shimmies in Literary/Criticism, the dance between a shadowy (possibly nonexistent) larger understanding that individuals seem to glimpse and their limited but fully accessible thoughts and experiences. Helfgott’s careful amalgamation of these smaller things is arbitrary yet fluently structured. He has taken so much, word-for-word/image-for-image, from various sources, such as the Internet and books; or, he has given his own words, word-for-word, to others to offer as their own; or, he has invited others to create texts, which he has accepted word-for-word. Simultaneously a "pack of lies" and "the very essence of truth," as Anderson would have it, the components assert themselves as compatible entities.

There is a logical coolness and narrative ease in Helfgott’s sense of structure, in the repeated format in which he floats transparencies over opaque images and joins them to recordings, or in the way he organizes "Three Chapters and an Epilogue" like a book. He achieves the limpid sweetness of "story." The elements of the tale go down easy and seem to suggest connections, but it would be misleading to simply accept them. Helfgott’s imposed pattern is as discretionary as the footnote, that rubbery pretender to authority. The question of authorship and the multiplicity of voices, combined with found and/or photographic images, and with Helfgott’s crudely naked machines and cryptic drawing, establish a persistent irrationality.

In the schizophrenia described by post-structuralism, madness rebels against the distorting embrace of "truth," against a necessarily limiting (distorting, then) set of conditions imposed either by external forces or by an internal demand for definition. "Reality is what my desire fabricates," Madan Sarup summarizes the postmodern schizophrenic position. What is desire, except a multiplicity of self-blind, stumbling quests—sexual, psychological, philosophical, economic, sensuous—twisted together as inevitably and as preposterously as God and DNA and the laces of a pair of Roman sandals in the "conversation" of the "Two Beautiful Women in Luxembourg Gardens"?

Like the author of a particularly interesting and complex work of fiction, in Literary/Criticism Myron Helfgott continually fabricates: he builds and he lies. Like the postmodern novelist, especially, Helfgott fabricates a structure that subverts its own coherence. By fusing the imaginary with the "real" in a set of fragments that sustain subjectivity, he releases a range of plausible perceptions that the viewer can take in without becoming a grotesque.  

    Contributor's Notes

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