MARK EDMUND DOTEN
28, from Cottage Grove, Minnesota
Doten is a product of the blogosphere. He fed his interest in politics as an associate editor at The Huffington Post and his passion for fiction by submitting work to novelist Dennis Cooper. Now he will be included in Cooper’s collection Userlands: New Fiction Writers From the Blogging Underground and is working on a novel with a premise just odd enough to fly. Green Zone Kidz will consist of linked short stories in the voices of Bush officials, vets, and, in the case of the excerpt below, Osama bin Laden in his cave.
In His Teacher’s Words
Two novelists at Columbia have taught Doten—Sam Lipsyte and the chair of the M.F.A. program, Ben Marcus. “We haven’t seen anyone like him,” says Marcus. “His stories are crazed monologues that grow progressively menacing as you read them. They’re political in a kind of way that’s very hard to pin down.”
They found the Jewboy picking his way through the boulders near the cave system. He smashed a lizard with a rock, scuttled up to the next boulder and smashed another lizard. The Jewboy smiled vaguely, head lolling, as he pounded out a third lizard’s guts, my lieutenants tell me.
“The heat! Who smiles in such heat?” they ask.
Through the long afternoon the sun blasts our mountain, the fiery air jams itself into the furthest recesses of the cave system, or as deep as we’ve yet managed to venture. There may be deeper passages, cooler passages. For this I have no evidence, only suspicions and the occasional chill.
“We thought of killing him,” the first lieutenant says, throwing the smiling Jew to the floor.
“But we brought him to you instead,” says the second lieutenant.
The third and the fourth lieutenant, cleaning their rifles in the corner, turn and nod. “Yes. Yes. Zionist pig.”
The pig smiles. I raise him up by the hair and gaze into his liquid eyes. No reflection there, just black oil.
I tell them that whenever you look at a Jew, you are in fact looking at a smiling Jew. The Jews are obscene clowns, I say. And drop him.
A dozen lamps spill light and shadow across the floor, after the boys tend to my blood each morning they tend to the lamps, topping up the oil. I don’t think it’s mere fancy to say that for my birds this is the most pleasurable time of day. A dozen cages hang at the perimeter of the chamber, the red-footed falcon, the purple gallinule, corncrakes and bullion crakes, as well as an Indian nightjar, a quantity of jack snipe and the oldest birds, a pair of ring-necked parrots with their incompetent, bovine faces. When the lamps are refilled a warmer light spills through the chamber and my birds lift their heads to call to one another, black eyes flashing, as though the darkness had been banished through their own agency. All but the snipe, who flap away from the light, batting demented at the slender sycamore bars, crying for a night they think they’ve lost
Of course, there’s no night in our cave system, properly speaking, only heat and chills. The lieutenants and boys venture outside, and thus they remain in touch with—let us even say trapped by—the illusion of day and night. In fact there’s no such thing, no day, no night, only a rotation of bodies, only a machine to clean the blood and swarms of beetles where once there were none, even a child knows this, but to learn a life without night and day, without the idea of night—to internalize such a way of living—is a very different question, and one that has gripped me for years. It comes to me as I study the pig that the Zionists have always in all their dealings kept an eye to the not-night, and our little Jewboy, whose head is now rolling in my direction, this Jew turning from the wall to face me, watches not only, or even primarily, me. He holds an eye to the not-night.
But here perhaps I go too far. It seems unlikely that The Jew at large is privileged to understand this—every day, every dusk, every night, all of it not-night—and certainly not this mute and smiling fool. Nevertheless: how to explain the persistent survival of the Jewish Race, how to explain the Jewboy, still alive on the floor of the central chamber, knees to chest, hands rubbing his snake-oil eyes before vanishing again under the blanket?
I mastered my disgust soon after his arrival. This was primarily, I believe, a disgust at such a face: the outsized eyes, the womanish, exotic features. God grants us disgust, praise his wisdom, so that we correctly learn the world for all its poisons. But He offers us as well the ability to master our disgust, in order that we might better rid ourselves of these poisons. And so, by the grace of God, it has become my mission to replace, or rather augment, my current understandings of The Jew—instinctive, scriptural and so forth—with something else, let us call it, for lack of a better term, a scientific and contemplative understanding. For instance, that first night I did not allow him a blanket. The next I relented. Call it an experiment, the basis of a parable: The Jewboy and the Blanket. I am interested, too, in his reaction to the central chamber. I hold in my head a complex understanding of the chamber: of my own love for it, of the aversion of the lieutenants, the fealty of the boys tending the generator and the elevator, boys periodically pausing to stare in wonder overhead. The Jewboy’s reaction could well be the missing piece, the one that makes it all come clear. For instance: am I the only one who feels these drafts that shake you to the bone? Every hour or two I’m struck with chills, but I can’t ask them, I won’t. Last night, however, I saw the Jewboy assiduously tucking the blanket under himself, tucking it under for hours. I would like to quiz him on his feeling about the chamber, on this tucking-under, to find out how he sees this place, how his vision differs from the objective reality: a chamber roughly square, each side close to 40 feet, the floor nearly flat, as though made by man, or by God for man. On the east wall, an elevator, a boy keeping watch over the elevator. Opposite this, the chamber’s mouth, opening onto what you might call the cave system’s ante-chamber, which snakes off in a dozen different directions, to deadfalls and blank stops, new caverns and even a pair of phosphorescent vaults that only the youngest of the boys can reach, crawling on knees and elbows through slender worming tunnels. Against the south wall of the central chamber—the broadest by several yards—I sit on my pillows, staring across to north side of the room, the Zionist there, a 3 foot chain running from the cave wall to that bare slender ankle. The roof of the chamber towers high above, lost in darkness, and when the Jewboy turns over the chain’s rattle echoes down on our heads like money.