Friday, July 9, 2010


Shoes enfranchise the feet. The terrain is no longer an obstacle of sharp rocks and broken glass, barnyard manure and hot pavement. Our feet are armored against the prick of a syringe in a city park, rocks encrusted with barnacles, the thorns of the forest.

Shoes, like people, become old. Wrinkle and crack. Canvas tears. Rubber wears. Laces fray. Shoes are never long in letting us know when they are done with us.

There is a mythology of shoes. Hermes, the ancient Greek god of thieves and messengers, inventors and tricksters, a patron of athletes and bringer of dreams, and whose name gave us the word ‘hermenuetics’ for the art of interpreting hidden meaning, used winged sandals to fly freely between the mortal and immortal worlds.

In Part Two of Goethe’s Faust, Mephistopheles arrives on stage in a pair of seven league boots. He dismounts, and the boots continue on their way.

In Peter Schlemiel: The Man Who Sold His Shadow, by Adelbert von Chamisso, Peter Schlemiel sells his shadow for a purse that tenders unending riches, but discovers that the lack of a shadow prevents the possibility of finding love. The magician offers to return his shadow in exchange for his soul. Peter refuses. Instead, he acquires a pair of seven-league boots and redeems his foolishness by becoming a dedicated naturalist and hurdles the world taking notes, drawing sketches, and identifying species.

Wittgenstein associates Schlemiel’s shadow with speaking and thinking. “Thinking is not an incorporeal process which lends life and sense to speaking, and which it would be possible to detach from speaking, rather as the Devil took the shadow of Schlemiel from the ground.”

The sole is the bottom of the shoe. The welt is the intermediary between the sole and the upper portions of the shoe. The eyelets are perforations for the shoelace, which weaves in and out over the tongue. The heel is the stern of the shoe. The toe is the bow.

The oldest pair of shoes in the world are a pair of sandals made of tightly woven sagebrush bark. They were discovered in central Oregon and radiocarbon dated to be approximately 10,000 years old.

On October 14th, 2008, an Iraqi journalist named Muntadhar al-Zaidi hurled both of his shoes at George W. Bush during a Baghdad press conference. “This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog,“ al-Zaidi yelled as he threw the first shoe. “This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq,“ he shouted as he threw his second shoe.

In December of 2009, Madonna confessed to legendary shoe designer Jimmy Choo that she enjoyed shopping for shoes more than having sex with a man.


Steven Fama said...

I have David Markson on the brain, so forgive me, but the approach of the final four 'graphs here -- just juxtaposing factoids and anecdotes -- seems delightfully similar to how he made (wrote) his last four books, which he called novels but I call poem-assemblages.

I'm thinking his last name should be used to name the approach of those books, and moreover that everybody ought to henceforth write their very own "Markson." You've in part done that here, although of course there's much more too (I especially love references to "seven league boots," which I had no idea about before now).


John Olson said...

I'm really going to have to read this Markson guy I keep hearing so much about. Maybe I could write a Markson about Markson. That would be remarksonable.

David Grove said...

I haven't read Markson, but isn't the strategy Steven's describing like Melville's oceanic catalogue of cetological facts and anecdotes in MD?

Offhand I think of two other pieces with similar strategies. Each strophe of Koch's "Lunch" is a surreal fandango in which wild images cavort around the idea of lunch like revelers around a chowder keg. And Harry Matthews' Singular Pleasures is a collection of discrete vignettes about people engaged in what the Québécois call lacrosse.

A repetend can be "I remember," lunch, whales, masturbation, elevators, shoes, elevator shoes--anything. And it can appear at the beginning of each strophe/stanza/unit to provide anaphora...How exciting all the possibilities are! We don't have time to write everything we want to write.

Steven Fama said...

Hi David,

Thanks for suggesting echoes or ties or similarities between the approach in John O's final 'graphs to writing other than Markson's.

I can't remember the Koch poem (though I should!) so special thanks on that one, as I will track down and re-read it.

Chapter 32 of Moby Dick -- but maybe you're referring to some other part I'm not remembering right now> -- seems encyclopedic as opposed to juxtaposed. But again, maybe you are referring to other passages?

And while the factoids and anecdotes centered on shoes that John O. presents at the end of his poem are juxtaposed, and assembled one after another, a la Markson, I should point out that Markson -- whose subject (to be general about it) is the life of the creative person -- is more diffuse with what he brings in. He'll have different types of anecdotes and factoids and quotations than just stuff directly particular to the actual subject.

For example, he puts in names of baseball players, along with trivia along the lines of (actual quote from Markson's last book, The Last Novel (and a quotation somehow appropriate to John O's poem here!):

"Einstein often went without socks."

Google Books has Markson's second-to-last book -- This Is Not A Novel -- available via its "Preview" feature, right here!

John Olson said...

Thank you, Steve, for that link. I was looking for some Markson yesterday. I was going to put one on hold at the library, but I haven't finished Carr's The Shallows yet, and I have two others on hold nearly due. I love what Markson has done with this approach to the novel. A factoid collage. Each block of prose fascinates as a mini-story, and underscores the underlying connectivity that makes a universe a universe.

David Grove said...

Hi Steve. Yes, Chapter 32 is rather encyclopedic. I was thinking mainly of the juxtaposed quotations at the beginning, under "Extracts supplied by a sub-sub-librarian." But I've never read Markson, so I don't know if that passage bears any resemblance to Markson's work. I'll try your link too.

Steven Fama said...

Hi again David,

Yes, a cephalopodian yes at that, for pointing me to the prefatory material used in Moby Dick. It does indeed have a Markson flavor, though again the single subject approach, at least the foregrounding of the subject, is different in Melville.

John Olson said...

Chapter XXXII is probably what got Moby Dick shelved among the nonfiction books on whaling rather than among the novels. If books such as Markson's continues to challenge the majority view of what constitutes a novel, one can imagine the benighted attitudes in Melville's time. It wasn't until the 1920s that people began to realize Moby Dick was a novel.

It is also more than a coincidence that Melville's great-grandson, Paul Metcalf, wrote his novels in the same style as Chapter XXXII. Metcalf's Golden Delicious, about westward expansion in the mid-1800s, is one of the most moving things I've read.

Conventional narrative moves in a linear fashion. The technique of saturating a subject in the manner of Metcalf and Melville is a fuller experience. There are points in Hamlet where I just want to hear Hamlet reflect on mortality and suicide rather than see any more sword fights or ghosts. Remove sequence, and the clamor of cause and effect, like the jamming of boxcars, reveals an infinite sweep of interrelation. You find yourself outside time confronting a naked reality. Or a prodigious whale.

I just glimpsed a little of Markson's work today, but what he seems to be doing is something very similar, only he less restricted by a single subject. His themes tie together differently somehow. There seems to be more play in the rope. Less incrustation. I look forward to reading him.

martin marriott said...

shoes are where it's at.

martin marriott said...

Madonna is at a different level than those who prioritise bras, or coats, or hat collections. The feet are furthest from the brain, and how, in what shape, we keep our feet on the ground, connecting to the external world physically and moving around in it, trying to put our best foot forward, and occasionally digging our heels in, is not an issue to pussyfoot around with, unless you're just a heel, scared to put your toes in the water. Indeed, there is much afoot with shoes. Shoes can make you feel like you're going somewhere, and you are, and everyone knows it. To heaven or hell, or just walking around in circles. The high heel erotic, and Charlie swirling his laces with exquisite delicacy. His boots are always meaty. But we are not apes, we are humans, we wear shoes. Kicked off in the rush to sex, they are accessories to the fact. His shoes ran after the Barefoot Bandit for years, shouting "Hey -- come back here!"
Any fairy tale with a shoe-maker in it, I'm there. And the jackboots, marching in formation. Yes, Madonna, if the shoe fits, wear it. And Jesus, in the desert, in the missing years.

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