Boris by the Sea

Matvei Yankelevich

Octopus Books


Sunday, March 7th, 2010

Boris by the Sea wears its materiality on its sleeve. By materiality, I mean phenomenology. By phenomenology, I mean phenomenologies. For Boris, our Everyman Agonist, checks off phenomenology as typology, tripping through the architectural (“He said to his right foot, Build yourself. And it did.”); the archeological (“He simply had no faith in the past.”); that involving particle physics (“It does a minute in 60 seconds.”); the philosophical and the psychological, as if there’s any difference (“Some day, he thought, I will die of this thirst and then what.”), the scientific per se (“It got dark. It used to be light.”); à la Merleau-Ponty (“Boris imagined a world in which everything was real.”); the Hegelian (“Is there anything real about Boris? Better to wonder, is there anything abstract about Boris?”); the Heideggerian (“And the thingness around us circles like crows as magpies.”); and, of course, that of more generic old men—”There was a there that was there, a real there there, and some folks were there, and you could basically have a drink there, if you were already there. He was there.”

And then there are some other characters less there than Boris, most notably Ivan, the Woman, and the Author. Ivan meaning John, but then again, not John but “John,” for like Kings of England, there were many significant Ivans strewn throughout Russian and otherwise Slavic history, some terrible, some just not so hot. Boris’s Ivan being of the loucher variety, the one that will bust in and bust up a writing, the one that refuses to keep out of the picture: “Ivan, standing erect in the doorway.” Meanwhile, he’s also the one who refuses to stay in focus:

In vain! cried Ivan, wherever Ivan went.

And so the story goes out with Ivan’s container and into a taxonomy of reverberations.

Meanwhile, the Author, who would wrestle with the subjective in that authorial way, struggles to understand what is happening with Boris, that is to say he would like to have a plan for understanding. Like some people have plans, and like authors keep plots. (Never noticing that the two primary functions of a plot are conspiratorial in the first instance and funereal in the second.) To wit: Author writes a “Note on If one is to write a children’s book” (instructions on writing that only advise as to illustrations, in which it is considered advisable to avoid any direct representation at all, particularly as to human because “Things are materialized thoughts,” and thoughts, as you know, like humans, run towards the conjunctive, which is another way to say the subjunctive, which is to say contrary to the current state of things. Current as in the sea. Meanwhile the Author later (“meanwhile” meaning “at the same time” meaning later in this sense—we are, after all, dealing with sentential structures in which things will follow other things) realizes “I can see it now. / Boris is angry,” angry, it seems, because “she can be next to him and nothing can be happening.” So while the Author wrestles with the seen and unseen and the sordid problems of representation, meanwhile, Boris remains indicative, which is at least known.* And that which is known may be the case, or may not be the case, but if it is not the case, it is known to not be the case, and, thus, it is the case that it is known. (“The author reflected upon this thought.”)

It is perhaps noteworthy that the indicative differs from the subjunctive in the third person singular of any verb in the present tense. And it is moreover the case that Boris is in the perpetual present tense. As who among us is not? (“In fact there was nothing to keep him from opening it. Nothing but the imagined threat of what he imagined might step out once he did it.”)

Meanwhile, there is also Woman* (“the least known”). Woman being the Lacanian upper case which does not exist, which cannot exist, that is to say, in any case, and so Boris’s Woman does not exist, as at least not for Boris, at least not in what’s colloquially called the here and now, anyhow. (“To Boris, she was neither rain nor shine. She was fake as wooden sheep, false as snowflakes, fraudulent as kitten sneezes.”) Now, meaning later. Meaning that it is only Boris that makes anything real (“Is there anything real about Boris?”), for if we’ve lost the subjective, it’s really just our own that’s gone missing, or turned up dead by the side of the road, having made that terrible mistake of picking up that nice young man, or turning down that well-lit street, of doing something, that is, or going somewhere, that was, that is to say, conjunctive, i.e., engaging in something changing versus something that simply goes on. Like the sea Boris lives by. (“Better to wonder, is there anything abstract about Boris?”)

The sea is, as you know, the Real, that excess that is neither Symbolic nor Imaginary, or rather hasn’t yet been slotted as Symbolic or Imaginary. Like the soft area between your toes, and how one might truly feel about Flaming Hot Cheetos. Well, you know it now. Though feel free to disagree, like Boris. He is phenomenological, but he is not a phenomenologist. That would involve enabling conditions, and Boris is low on those.

How old are we, really?

How close are we, really?

Boris by the Sea is a small square book with a lot of air, like one of Matisse’s window paintings; in all this extrusion, there is a concrete sense of something not there—not something that was and now isn’t, but something that purposefully is not. The space around any sculpture, for example. The way that things not said in a poem become the contours of that poem.

There is nothing particular about Boris.

He’s particular to nothing.

It is by happy determinism that Yankelevich is also the translator of Daniil Kharms (Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms, Ardis (2007)). Kharms’ 1934 short prose piece, “On Phenomena and Existences #1,” recounts an anecdote about a great artist who, upon examining a rooster, determines that the rooster does not exist. The great artist’s friend laughs, pointing out that he can see the rooster “quite clearly. And the great artist then lowered his head and sat down, right where he was standing, on a heap of bricks. THAT’S ALL.” In keeping with the spirit of a heap of bricks upon which one might sit, in the Introduction to Today I Wrote Nothing, Kharms is quoted from his 1937 diary: “I am interested only in nonsense; only in that which has no practical meaning. Life interests me only in its most absurd manifestations.” Boris is likewise an absurd manifestation, but no more so than anything else, once you look at it, for I think I shall never see a thing as silly as a tree. That is to say, no more so than the wooden chair upon which Boris sits, then burns; no more so than chair, who, by virtue of being burnt “seemed also strangely satisfied, as though it had finally fulfilled its true purpose. And Boris had helped it do so.”*

There are no punctums but periods in Boris by the Sea. In this sense, Boris is his own history. And, by happy coincidence, I am watching (as we speak) A History of Britain: The Complete Collection: Vol. 1 and I do so wish it were so, that history flowed like DVDs, like chapters strung along like birds on wires that used to be used to telephone. History punctuated with the occasional exclamation point, like any ordinary war or a breakout peace, but mostly just featherhooked with commas, lightly flung. A history of Britain, like the seriality of Boris, is a belief in time as phenomenology, which, of course, makes it Real as the sea in which we drown like dogs, though meanwhile, that is to say later, we paddle.

Boris had an idea. Then he sat down and wept.

Just as Boris* makes me believe in the way that dark furniture does, in the way that people who believe sit on many substances without the need for further support.
Just as * makes one drop one’s eyes to the end, for further clarification. Just as one would wish for further clarification.

Have comments about this review? Send a Letter to the Editor


Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /home/nbxfw59rbf39/public_html/wp-includes/class-wp-comment-query.php on line 405

Leave a Reply