My latest talking-squid video-essay is about Lulu Miller’s book Why Fish Don’t Exist! You know how Pluto isn’t a planet anymore? Apparently fish have been done for a while, too!
In the second section of Akayama DanJay: Blind Faith, Jay is pretty blunt about what he represents in Akayama’s cosmic plan. Then that cosmic plan hits the fan.
In English-classes everywhere, there’s much discussion about what authors meant with a book. Two readers can disagree with each other (and even the author), which effectively means that each reader has their own private edition. Like blind men describing an elephant based only on the portions they can touch, we interpret stories from our own perspectives, and can never really share them.
I want readers to be painfully aware of this when they read Akayama DanJay and this sequel. The books morph from scene to scene, and scenes impact each other in ambiguous ways, so no two readers should agree on what I’m actually saying. I’d like this to encourage readers to pour over and argue about the texts like holy-books even though the stories are explicitly secular, which should, in turn, make readers reinterpret actual holy-books and their own relationship to the universe.
In Akayama DanJay, Dan’s dad argues that all texts, even texts from authoritative sources like science and religion, are empty of inherent meaning, but that that very emptiness unites us in exactly the way science and religion often claim to. Then he jumps out a window and dies. This leads Dan to frustration with Leo, who cites his own supposedly-wealthy-but-actually-absent father when he demands a station above reality, beyond consequences for his actions.
How is the reader meant to interpret this? If Dan’s dad is to be believed, it’s got no inherent meaning, so we should jump out windows to get it over with. But Jay’s understanding of emptiness lets him save mankind from itself. That’s my attempt to turn the lack of a message into a message about coping with the lack of a message. From where I’m standing, the book says “everything is empty, especially this book about people who interpret emptiness in different ways and where those interpretations lead them, wink wink, nudge nudge.” This puts the reader in a hard place, deciding how they react to the emptiness presented, because that emptiness doesn’t go away when they put the book down.
But anyone can interpret Akayama DanJay in any way they choose, and my argument is that ALL those interpretations are all equally empty. So, for maximum pretentiousness, I want this sequel to make readers reinterpret the first book, resulting in a deeper, more detailed outlook. I don’t really care what that outlook is. I just want readers to be unsettled as their point-of-view shifts underneath them. That shifting point-of-view demonstrates the real message, the emptiness of all messages, and therefore the importance of unconditional compassion.
In DanJay Blinks, Jay loses his staring contest with Anihilato. The only difference between this alternate universe and the original universe is a single coin-flip, so both universes seem “valid” or “plausible” in the context of the fiction. In the last book, Jay’s sacrifice worked. In this book, it didn’t. We’re left to ask, “what do we do when our compassion isn’t unconditional enough?”
I couldn’t have written this version of events first. Jay is only allowed to lose in this sequel because readers of the first book have already seen him win. They’ve gotten the message: love is good, yada yada. With the message across, I can knock it down to show it was empty the whole time. If love is really good, the emptiness won’t keep it down for long. When Jay explains his role in the cosmic plan, then bungles it, he’s showing the imagery he represents is empty. Over the course of this sequel he’ll prove that the emptiness only empowers the imagery, corroborating the first book from a fresh perspective.
Likewise, Faith is blinded. In 1678’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian allegory is spelled out with obviously-labeled characters like “Mr. Worldly Wiseman” and “Mr. Legality.” In this secular book which steals and violates religious imagery, I want to provide such obvious labels but twist them around so readers have to argue about what they really mean. What does it mean for the character Faith to be blind?
Well, in the last book, I wouldn’t say Faith had faith. She told Anihilato to “fuck off” and was happy to leave it behind in the desert. Rather, Faith is faith, and other characters have her. Beatrice obviously “has” Faith. Dan “has” Faith sometimes, but sometimes loses her. Dan wants to be with Beatrice, but his only way to her is through Faith. Anihilato tried to “have” faith by grabbing her, but she slips through fingers. Faith doesn’t work like that.
So, in coming chapters, Faith’s blindness will test other characters as much as it tests her. What will it mean to “have” Faith when she can’t see if you’re her friend or a giant worm-monster?
We’ll find out soon enough. Remember, I’m just making it up as I go. Chances are I’ll change every word of these early chapters eventually.
(I wrote this in ten minutes with my writing group. I like it!)
My sixth-grade science-teacher Mr. Huffman assigned us a chapter to read about heat and thermodynamics. I, like my classmates, read nothing. The next day Mr. Huffman made us take out pens. “Only pens,” he barked, “and just one piece of paper, put everything else away.” Then he asked, “did you read the chapter? Write it down.”
“Yes,” I lied.
“Next,” said Huffman, “list the three methods of heat transference, and if you can’t, but wrote ‘yes,’ write your parents a letter apologizing for being a liar. Make them sign it and bring it in tomorrow as homework.”
I’d never felt fight-or-flight adrenaline. It broiled me from within. I knew nothing about heat, but couldn’t face my parents as a liar. Sweat slicked my palms and I looked to my friends, who already morosely resigned themselves to writing apology letters. I wouldn’t have it.
My textbook was under my desk. With the toe of my shoe, I opened to the table of contents. Under the Thermodynamics chapter heading the first three subsections were Radiation, Conduction, and Convection . I scribbled those words and stomped the book shut before Mr. Huffman saw.
I pinky promise that’s the only time I’ve cheated in class. On the plus side, on Mr. Huffman’s final exam, I remembered the three methods of heat transference, and I still do.
I’m trying to recall whether Mr. Huffman was all bark and no bite. His barks definitely made me skittish.