Amphibious Fiction: A Gambler’s Anatomy and Jonathan Lethem’s Autopsy Scars


A rare case of a piece I wrote that has gone through a whole editing process for appearance in a semi-mainstream forum, The Believer mag (online). I think it’s probably better for it.

Read it there, leave comments here.


7 thoughts on “Amphibious Fiction: A Gambler’s Anatomy and Jonathan Lethem’s Autopsy Scars

  1. I did not read the entire article but I found the parts I did read interesting. I’ll listen to the interview when I have a chance.

    I noticed near the end you mentioned your struggle with chronic fatigue and body aches. This and other aspects of yourself that you describe bear a great resemblance to my father, who like you is quite intelligent and creative, but also identifies as borderline aspergers, has difficulty putting on any weight and is on most days either extremely fatigued, in pain, emotionally unstable or all of the above.

    In any case, the reason I bring this up (quite out of context, I know) is that I recently found out about a common genetic polymorphism (euphemism for mutation) in the MTHFR gene that could cause many of the mysterious symptoms he has experienced for most of his life. I searched for this in the DNA test he had done a few years ago, and indeed found out that he is homozygous for this mutation (ie. both genes have this) making him virtually unable to perform basic cellular metabolic functions including energy metabolism, DNA repair and detoxification.

    Quite an aha moment, especially since this can often be helped with simple supplementation of methyl folate and methyl B12, along with avoidance of non-methyl synthetic forms. Under the guidance of a qualified professional of course.

    I thought this might be of interest to you or other readers who could potentially benefit from this awareness.

      • Indeed, if the physical is a manifestation of prior consciousness then our genetic makeup can be seen as an extension of that.

        Once coded into our DNA though it can be useful to address any genetic anomalies on a nutritional level since they do affect our existence quite substantially.

  2. Hello Jasun:
    I did a quick read of your coded review. I’m quite sure I missed many things, perhaps even if either the review or the book has a point to make. But then, is that the point? Is the point of metaphor to point to what is not known, or perhaps what cannot be verbalized even if known? [Head shake, as in ‘Guy, give your head a shake, and move yourself out of silly easily constructed word games.’ And also, stop talking in the third person.]

    It left me curious about it, so from the perspective of garnering new readers to Lethem – I’d not heard of him before – your review succeeded.

    One small tiny editorial suggestion. You wrote “Since the waitress’ face is covered by a leather mask and her vagina is totally exposed, Bruno’s gaze is compelled towards the nether regions.” The only way her ‘vagina’ could be totally exposed is if her genitals had been dismantled. I suspect you meant ‘vulva’, or have quietly acquiesced to the common misuse of that so-called ‘V’ word. Odd, is that abuse of language in itself a quiet statement about the abuse of women and, more specifically, the feminine archetypal principle and energy?

    But beyond that minor and irrelevant quibble, it is interesting that I was reminded of a description of the dance of the seven veils as verbalized by the American writer Tom Robbins. It might have been in his book, Skinny Legs and All, but do not remember. (And won’t take the time to find it, tonight.) The first veil removed was to expose the dancer’s vulva as being the least interesting feature of a women.

    What really prompted me to write this, though, was the denouement of your thoughts and Lethem’s story following ‘Coming back to negative enlightenment…”, specifically:

    “I began to feel a growing sense of disappointment as the novel seemed to meander into some fuzzy, edgeless spaces and veer very far from the promised horror of the slow build-up. Worse, the book seemed to be veering into romance. Perhaps this is how Bruno feels also (the fuzzy disappointment), as he tries to adapt to his newly lost identity through the most obvious of methods, that of sex-love? Maybe it’s even how Lethem felt, as he tried to find the ground after pulling it out from under himself? Were all those gold flakes placed there in an extended case of cryptomnesia? Where is the pay streak here?”

    This stood out because this morning I finished re-reading Marie-Louise von Franz comment on something very similar in the process of individuation by people undergoing analysis. At some point, she says, nothing uplifting or life affirming, or developmental will happen. It can last for months, and in that time you experience “human dirt.” Meaningless sex, petty interactions. She elaborated on this in a fascinating way, in her description of a series of episodes in The Golden Ass of Apuleius: The Liberation of the Feminine in Man. During that time, in his psychological development, the path is fuzzy and nothing really happens. And yet, it was necessary, because without the dirt, there is a tendency for enlightenment to be stuck in the head and be completely disconnected from the life – dirt. She observes that an important, even critical requirement for personal growth and individuation is not to get mired in beauty stuck in the head is to recognize our shadow, the human dirt that we are. If we are to fully embrace life, know that the taller the tree, the bigger are the roots in the dirt. True growth requires that pair of complementary movements. She adds an interesting example, Plato, who got so lost in his ideas that failed to be fully present in the reality of his culture and was taken as a slave.

    I’m thinking that von Franz’s book is one you may want to read. After Kalsched’s Inner World, I have found this re-read so much more powerful and enriching than the first time I read it. I am re-reading it again as I read it.

  3. Hi egajd; thanks for the feedback.

    At some point, she says, nothing uplifting or life affirming, or developmental will happen. It can last for months, and in that time you experience “human dirt.” Meaningless sex, petty interactions.

    Only months? I’d say it has to do with the mind becoming less and less able to latch onto what is happening and pull it into its mental space like trophies to decorate its altar of progress. It’s excruciating not to be able to tell the feeling/thought of spinning our wheels (guilt and shame and self-judgment) from the actuality of it (our very real torpidity, sloth, and inertia). I wrestle with this every day, how to continue to go deeper and expand outward without using will power to do so, and how to surrender will without giving into a counter-will to indulge in effortless habits that keep us immersed in a head-space of fake beauty.

    How do you mean Plato ‘was taken as a slave’?

    • Hello again. Sorry for the delay. I chose to answer this with the extended citation from Marie-Louise von Franz, in which she refers to Plato’s having been sold into slavery. (Sorry, I misremembered the quote and wrote ‘taken’. I conflated that memory with other examples from that time when the rich and powerful were taken and sold into slavery.)

      “The important thing in this story [of Lucius’s adventures as an ass] is that Lucius co-operates unconsciously with evil and helps to destroy the master, who is a good person. This he does by ‘showing his shadow.’ This is meaningful if one recollects the fact that the book was written by a Neoplatonist philosopher. The Neoplatonists believed in the supremacy of good, and that evil was only a kind of ignorance and misunderstanding. Upheld by this sort of illegitimate optimism, Plato tried to meddle with politics in Sicily and, as is known, suffered shipwreck; he was even sold as a slave. Toward the end of his life Plato had therefore to correct his too-optimistic views and work over his theories, for his bitter experiences had shown him that evil did exist and that the real world did not match his ideal picture. This theme, too, is represented in our novel [The Golden Ass of Apuleius], and it shows how reality appears to a Neoplatonic philosopher. Hitherto the stories have been concerned with the problem of relationship, but from now on come forth the problem of good and evil and a clear tendency to pessimism. The evil forces predominate, and the ass is even co-operating with them involuntarily. In our culture, too, there still exists this problem. Many Christians have too optimistic an idea of evil. The more we are one-sidedly idealistic and wish to to good and the right thing, the more we involuntarily co-operate on the side of evil. On the contrary, if one takes [the] trouble to take into account the dark side as well, one can better avoid evil suddenly forcing itself into the foreground in too strong a way. To do good may still be one’s aim, but one becomes modest, for one knows that if one is too good, one constellates the compensatory destructive side. It is more realistic not to do good in an unreal way, thereby with one’s left hand increasing the weight of evil without noticing it, and afterwards justifying it by saying that one did not notice.

      This problem is especially acute for this who want to become analysts. Again and again analysts with the best intentions are too good to the analysands, and have bad effects without noticing them. The do not realize that they can harm an analysand, who is telephoning in despair, through too much sympathy. If one gives too much, either in feeling or in co-operation, one makes the analysand childishly dependent, eve if it may not be the intention. That is only one example of how best intentions can lead to wrongdoing if one is not skeptical enough about oneself and is not conscious of one’s own shadow (165-6).”

      The Golden Ass: The Liberation of the Feminine in Man by M.L. von Franz

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