Compendium | Dear Reanimated Corpse of Roland Barthes

Advice from philosophers, poets, and bullshitters of old

Dear Reanimated Corpse of Roland Barthes,

I’ve recently started something with a new girl, but I’m worried about ‘defining the relationship’ because we’re both close to graduating. What should we do? Also, what gives you the authority to speak posthumously as the all-encompassing from-the-other-side-of-human-consciousness expert on love?

—Worried in Montreal

• Ah, Worried, you are approaching the point at which the real and imagined must meet, a rapidly approaching horizon that will eliminate binaries. The desired object will now be the real object, and, in that way of lovers, your possession, or what you wish to possess. This is the process of ‘definition’ if you call it, a closing of possibility.

• Now, the separation that may occur; why start it if you will both ‘move on’ to different places past the academic? Now, we may think: why start anything at all? There will always be a separation of a sort; in these separations we can breathe new life into our desire, as our possessions are lost for some time, we can pine to have them again. These are necessary things, Worried, not to be feared.

• Ah, yes, the question of my expertise, the very idea of me, the dead author, prescribing advice to others from my position as the dead author. I have never claimed to be an expert, though the site of this column as an advice column does assume so. Fine, then; I have decided that I will spread the wealth of advice. I am still in communication with the ‘other side’ (what you imagine happens after death, this is true, and every person will imagine something different, so this is what happens after death, that is, everything) and have asked some other fellows from the post-life space to answer this question, in order to diversify (no, wait, I hate that word), expand, your advice.

• First: T.S. Eliot, the author of one of my favorite texts, The Waste Land:

If we were here and also not here
If here was not here yet also here
If there was no here and no not here
And, come spring, we might depart from here, separate

Spring would not come, the wheel would never turn
Snow pelting us through March, keeping us warm
And how should I define?

She, sitting high above, asks me to define
I stand on the stairs, unable to define
For there may be time, though time flits away,

Perhaps a hand firmly on the helm,
We will sail through waters to Thrace
And there we may be happy,

Inside a ceaseless scratching,
Out out out out, chi-chi-ra, chi-chi-ra,
O, were I Arachne, my challenge completed, hanging
By my thread.

• Now, another great producer of texts, William Gaddis!
[Ed. Note: We eliminated four paragraphs of T.S. Eliot’s prose, which, in essence, accused Gaddis of, to paraphrase, ripping off his shit.]

– You said what? Define what?
– No, no, focus on these here sheets, no, look right here…
– …
– You said something about a relationship?
– Just get your fucking head out the clouds, here, now look, what we’re looking at here is about a 24 month forecast, and, now, if we converted the preferred stock into something offshore, we can flip it for some of these dead properties, and then take these to the market, it’s easy profit, now, come on now, look, where the fuck is your head?
– La Ronde.
– Your head is at the goddamn amusement park?
– No, no, sorry, I was thinking of…
– Jesus Christ…
And now his mind, across some amount of time, across a decaying bridge, the one crumbling, just waiting for that one more car to cross over it, into that park where maybe not amusement happens but at least a sense of thrill, maybe you took the yellow for the first time,
– Barbe a papa! Barbe a papa!
– What is that, Stravinksy? Playing near the Boomerang?
– Right, it’s all coming back up, anyway, heh heh heh,
– So what are we, anyway?
– … which ride?
– No, we, like, us?

• And, finally, an author from an era before works, Ovid!
[Translated from Latin, four poems about erections excised]

And, Worried, seeing his bride spurting blood,
As if her vein had been hooked up to a sprinkler system,
Covered the groom’s face with a coat of blood,
And he watched the wedding party, inflamed by a fury,
Slipping in the blood, at each other’s neck, felled in a variety of ways,
Uncle Johnny ripped out Aunt June’s tongue, while the children
Gouged out each other’s eyes, and Grandpa Jim decapitated
The flower girl, as she had done before to the Dandelions.
And you, O Worried, shouted to whatever God you knew
“Dear Lord, take me away!” and with that, Jove,
hearing a prayer that might still be for him,
lifted Worried out to sea, dropped him, but
before transformed him into a Mudskipper,
forever to vacillate between land and sea.

• And so, if we read the symbols in these texts – going from node, to node, to node – we can see that definition may be fraught with danger, a conversation may define the undefineable. Also, T.S. Eliot hated women.

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